ShaViva's Stargate Fan ... Stuff

Inconceivable!

Forlorn Hope: Part Six

Chapter 32: Misbegotten problems.

They'd been saved from immediate death by transferring to the Hive Ship but that was really the beginning of their longer term problems. Problems that necessitated a meeting of the senior staff, including Lorne, on board the Wraith ship.

"We're going to have to come up with a way to tow the Daedalus," Rodney announced, his expression grim. "There aren't enough spare parts in this part of the galaxy to get her into hyperspace under her own steam."

"Which means we need Michael to get back to Atlantis," Sheppard concluded.

"A fact I'm less than happy with," Caldwell noted disapprovingly.

"He helped us get off that Hive ship and deliver the retrovirus," Sheppard reminded everyone present of what they owed their Wraith 'friend'.

"And when we get back to Atlantis?" Caldwell asked the question Lorne had been thinking himself. "What then?"

"I don't know," John admitted. "But we get a Hive ship out of it so it's not all bad ...," he trailed off with a shrug.

Caldwell said nothing, looking at Sheppard for a moment before turning his attention back to Rodney. "How long?"

"Until we can get moving?" Rodney queried. "The hive ships are self repairing but only up to a point. I took the liberty of consulting with Michael on the repair of their hyperdrive – given enough time he can get the ship moving, but we'll have to make regular, frequent stops along the way to allow the living aspects to recover and to continue repairs."

"How long Doctor McKay?" Caldwell asked again, some impatience showing through.

"You seriously want me to quantify repair time for a Wraith Hive ship?" Rodney looked incredulous but Colonel Caldwell pinned him with a steely gaze. "Fine," Rodney declared. "Ah – a day. But before we can even contemplate leaving we need to restore sub-light engines on the Daedalus so we can move her into position. Let's add another day for that." Rodney was getting into his snarky scientist stride now. "Zelenka's estimates say at least ten stops with a half day wait for the Hive to recover at each. So, with travel time ... nine days, maybe ten?"

"That's going to be a problem Sir," Lorne spoke up, his tone serious. Since they'd realised their current issues he'd been in charge of assessing supplies. The Daedalus had a crew compliment of 180, with the addition of another two hundred and ten converted to human Wraith at best count. "Ordinarily the Daedalus would carry provisions for a three week journey, with some additions for unexpected circumstances."

"I think this counts as unexpected," Rodney muttered.

"I'd say so," Lorne agreed blandly. "The addition of the Wraith more than doubles the usual compliment, which would be challenging enough, but," he looked at Caldwell, knowing the other man could complete his sentence.

"But the Daedalus didn't stop to reload before we left Atlantis," Caldwell concluded.

"No Sir," Lorne continued. "Even with strict rationing we only have water for two days, maybe three."

"That's not enough!" Rodney exclaimed. When Sheppard looked at him pointedly, an unspoken 'drama queen much?' question in his expression, the scientist shook his head, protesting. "The average human can only survive three days without water, and while I'm above average in most respects it would be just my luck to be below average when it comes to dying from dehydration!"

"Is he right Major?" Sheppard asked.

"The delivery was a little dramatic, but yes Sir, it's accurate enough," Lorne agreed, amused despite the seriousness of the situation. "Healthy adults can usually last three to five days without water, but with power restrictions also in effect it's gonna get pretty cold in here, so that lowers the estimate a little. In this case it isn't going to matter whether it's three, four, or five days because it sounds like the minimum we'd have to survive for is six. That'd be fine for some of us but it'd be a risk to sign everyone up for that equation Sir," he said to Caldwell seriously. Unspoken but understood, his message was clear – people would die. The only uncertainty was in how many.

"Can we contact Atlantis, have them send someone out to meet us with supplies?" the Colonel asked.

"Subspace communications are down, here and on the Daedalus," Rodney said, "and by down I mean dead and buried. We could walk back to Atlantis long before anything we can do out here will fix them."

"So you're saying we can't contact Atlantis, it'll take ten days to get back, but an unknown number of us will be dead from dehydration before we can get there?" Caldwell summarised incredulously.

"In a nutshell, yes Sir," Lorne confirmed.

"That's not an equation I'm liking Major," Caldwell said caustically.

"No Sir," Lorne said blandly. "I do have one idea to change the numbers Sir ... we put our Wraith prisoners into stasis," he suggested quietly. "It'd more than double our resources Sir."

Caldwell and Sheppard both turned narrow eyed looks on him but Rodney immediately perked up.

"Yes, yes!" he said excitedly. "That way we only have to worry about the power requirements to keep the stasis system operating ... which aren't insignificant but nowhere near as dire as running out of water six days out from Atlantis."

Caldwell looked thoughtful for a moment and then nodded. "Very well. Round up a team to assist Doctor McKay, Major."

"Yes Sir."

Rodney jumped up immediately – locking in his future water supply and therefore his survival was a big motivator for McKay. The scientist hadn't mentioned the added complication of his hypoglycaemia ... yet. Evan was sure they'd all be hearing about it before supplies were divied up. Instead of following Rodney, Lorne hesitated, looking at Caldwell intently. "It's not an entire fix Sir," he felt compelled to point out. "Water supplies will still be tight – we'll run out before we get back to the city and there's still a risk that some personnel won't do well with dehydration, even after a day or so. Our food supplies are also an issue – not from a survival point of view. We can ration that too but it's a given we'll be out of food before we get home." He didn't have to explain the consequences ... it would be cold and morale would suffer with people missing meals and feeling dehydrated to boot.

"Understood Major," Caldwell returned. "We're not at the stage of putting our own people in stasis yet – even assuming that's a viable option. Just do the best you can to minimise the impact."

"Yes Sir," Lorne looked to Colonel Sheppard for a moment, got a nod of confirmation from his commanding officer, and then strode out to get it done.

oOo

For the remainder of the day Lorne immersed himself in his duties, setting up teams to divide food and water into ration sized portions. Keeping busy helped with not thinking about how they couldn't contact Atlantis and therefore couldn't tell them they were okay. Lorne knew the deal ... the longer you didn't hear back from a missing team the more likely it was that you just wouldn't. He'd already given Prue too many reasons during their short relationship to think him either dead or close to it ... and it burned that he was doing it again.

"But you're not thinking about that," he reminded himself grimly. The other thing he wasn't thinking about was how things were going back in the city. They were assuming the appearance of one additional Hive ship was the sum total of the Queen's betrayal but where they had one there was every chance there were more, some of which could be on Atlantis's door step. "Don't borrow trouble", he thought, impatient with himself as he strived to return his attention to the activity around him.

They'd be shipping over supplies from the Daedalus to the Wraith ship in preparation for the entire crew seeing out the journey home on the alien ship, and were organising everything for transport. Rodney had supplied air to the Daedalus for that purpose, muttering the whole time that it was madness to waste oxygen they couldn't replace.

Water was already organised for rationing – bottled, boxed, and to be controlled by a two man team with a daily check list that would ensure each person got one and only one serve per day. Food was more challenging to organise – trying to work out how to divvy up the various items, taking into account the ones that wouldn't last as long, as well as paying some kind of attention to a balanced diet was beyond his talents. Evan had roped in the mess crew to do that and would assign Captain Kennedy's team to be their muscle as well as their intimidation factor should they need it as the days passed.

"How's it coming Lorne?" Sheppard strolled into the busy storage area.

"Almost done Sir," Evan replied.

"Good – McKay will stop complaining once we switch off most of the air over here," John nodded towards the corridor. "Walk with me Major."

"Yes Sir," Lorne gestured for Kennedy to take over from him and then walked with the Colonel. "Problem Sir?" he asked as soon as they were out of earshot.

"Not really," Sheppard returned. Sighing, he stopped at the first outside window they came to and leaned against it, his eyes on the stars outside, the Hive ship hovering nearby to spoil the view. "How do you do it Evan?" he asked quietly.

"Do what Sir?" Evan frowned, eyes on his CO. He could guess where Sheppard was coming from but couldn't credit it as something John would really want to discuss.

"Put yourself out there with Prue when this kind of thing keeps happening," Sheppard clarified. Turning back to Lorne his frustration was clear. "Doesn't not knowing what's going on in Atlantis drive you crazy?"

"To be honest I try not to think about it Sir," Lorne said simply.

"So it hasn't occurred to you that our Queen could have had more than the two Hive ships we know about at her disposal?" Sheppard raised his brow at Evan quizzically.

"I said I was trying not to think about it Sir, not that I'd been successful," Evan admitted. "It concerns me Sir, and I'd dearly love to be able to communicate with them right now, or at least find a way to let them know we're okay."

"At least no one reported you as KIA," Sheppard quipped.

"It was your turn Sir," Lorne returned blandly. The two men stood, both looking but not really seeing the view before them. "You're worried about Doctor Weir," Evan took a chance on making the obvious conclusion.

John looked at him, clearly uncomfortable with the spotlight being shifted to him. Instead of answering, Sheppard shrugged, keeping his attention on the window.

Lorne moved to stand beside his CO, directing his attention outwards as well. After a few more moments of silence he spoke in a low tone. "Never in a million years would I have guessed I'd have someone waiting for me back home Sir. Someone worrying about me ... in fact I was determined that wouldn't be the case. Lucky for me I didn't get to decide."

"Lucky?" Sheppard shot him a surprised look.

"Yes Sir," Lorne agreed intently. "If it had been solely up to me, I'd be retiring in twenty, thirty year's time with a chest full of commendations and an empty house. Even if things with Prue don't work out I don't think I can see my future like that anymore." It was true ... the past that had always held him back hadn't been rewritten by Prue. Instead she'd helped him see that he could either interpret it as a reason to sit back and let the emotions of life go on without him or he could man up and take as much of a chance on his heart as he took with the rest of his life. Participate instead of watch from the sidelines. What he felt for Prue was too intense for the sidelines to be an option ... it hurt to contemplate that it wouldn't work out, and he couldn't really comprehend what series of events would get him anywhere other than to a future with Prue by his side on a permanent basis. "Man, you are so far gone you've gone soft over it," he told himself ruefully.

"She changed you," Sheppard concluded.

"In a way I guess she did," Lorne smiled. "The fact that I'm admitting it to you really slams that one home, doesn't it?"

"Well, you're not exactly known for wearing your heart on your sleeve," John quipped. "In fact, you still aren't ... so I appreciate you making the effort for me."

"If you don't mind my saying so Sir," Lorne began, "Doctor Weir is an admirable woman."

"She is," Sheppard agreed. He looked at Lorne sideways. "And that wasn't a declaration Major."

"I would never suggest it was," Evan returned blandly.

"Right," John smiled and shrugged again. "I'll work it out eventually."

"Maybe you just need to think about it in a different light," Evan suggested.

"How's that?" John asked curiously.

"I imagine right about now Doctor Weir is getting a very good appreciation of what it's like believing you were killed Sir," Lorne explained. "If you put yourself in her shoes, does that change your decision making process? Because I know for a fact that seeing Prue lying at the bottom of that cavern on three two two, not moving, clarified my thinking down to the basics."

"Ah," Sheppard frowned, clearly not liking where that statement was taking his thoughts. "Let's agree not to try imagining either Prue or Elizabeth as ... you know," he gestured vaguely.

Lorne just barely held in a smile. "Yeah, can't even say the word 'dead' and link it to Elizabeth, can you?" he thought. He understood – and wasn't comfortable with his thoughts going in that direction either. "Sure, of course Sir," he said aloud.

"How are we really looking on supplies?" Sheppard brought it back to business, to both their reliefs.

"We'll run out of food maybe a week before we get to Atlantis, water a few days after that," Lorne didn't sugar coat it. "Everyone is fit enough to pass a military approved medical so, all things being equal, we should get them home before things start to go wrong."

"But those last few days aren't going to be pleasant," Sheppard concluded.

"No Sir," Lorne agreed.

"Right," John nodded, pushing away from the window. "Do what you can to get this finished quickly Major," he said. "I'll go back to the Hive, talk to Rodney and see if he can come up with a way to get us there a little faster."

"Yes Sir," Lorne moved from the window too, heading back to the storage rooms while Sheppard continued on to the bridge.

oOo

McKay and Zelenka got both ships repaired enough to get moving a day later – all the supplies had been relocated along with all personnel except Radek and a small team of engineers. He and Rodney had even managed to coax some additional performance out of the Hive ship, with Michael's help, bringing the supplies versus travel time equation a little closer to balancing.

Even though Daedalus was being towed by the Wraith ship she still needed to have someone on board while they were in hyperspace, just in case something went wrong. At the last rest stop the command crew would beam back to Daedalus in preparation for the return to Atlantis but there was no way they could crew Daedalus for the entire trip home because oxygen supplies just wouldn't allow it. Whoever stayed on Daedalus would be restricted to a small area where life support was maintained sufficient for one person, representing the smallest division of their available air supply possible.

They were ready to proceed – Rodney had done all he could to make Daedalus safe, and the ship had been stocked with the minimum rations for one person to survive for ten days. All they needed to know was who would travel on her all the way home. When it was time to make the decision Lorne could see that Sheppard was hesitant to give the order and assign someone to a very lonely ten days.

"Sir," Evan approached Colonel Caldwell with an easy expression. "Permission to take command of the Daedalus for the duration."

A faint smile played over Stephen Caldwell's face as he regarded Evan. "You jockeying for my job Major?"

"No Sir," Lorne countered, "but I wouldn't say no to a little peace and quiet Sir."

Caldwell nodded, looking over at Sheppard. John let out a breath slowly and then shook his head. "You sure you want that gig Lorne?" he queried. "It's gonna get pretty lonely over there, not to mention claustrophobic."

"I know that Colonel," Lorne replied. He raised a brow at his CO. "Are you really going to order someone else to do it instead?"

"No," Sheppard admitted. "But you know I'd rather have you here, right?"

"I'm flattered Sir," Lorne deliberately put a bit of the 'smart ass' into his reply, getting the desired laugh from John.

"Right, off you go then. Get out of here," Sheppard shooed Evan off the bridge.

Lorne straightened, nodded to Sheppard and Caldwell and then activated his radio. "I'm ready to switch over Radek," he said firmly. Radek and his team were ready on the Daedalus; they'd beam over in tandem.

"Major," Caldwell drew his attention.

"Sir?" Lorne queried.

"Thank you," Stephen said simply.

Lorne nodded. "No problem Sir."

The white light of the Asgard transport beam enclosed him and drew him away. When it dissipated he was standing on the bridge of the Daedalus. It was quiet – inside his mind and externally - and dark with the shadow of the much larger Wraith Hive looming over the ship. Boxes of food and water were stacked against the wall, his personal effects resting beside them.

Evan took a deep breath and let it out slowly, realising that for the first time in living memory he was truly and completely alone.

oOo

Lorne had always considered himself a well rounded kind of guy. He'd never struggled to make friends and had managed to go one better and maintain quite a few friendships long term, even living a military life style. But he'd also always been happy with his own company, and in some cases preferred that over having to socialise or make small talk. Being an artist meant you had to be comfortable inside your own skin – had to be up with tapping into your own depths for inspiration or interpretation. Evan had spent hours in his early years painting a single landscape in relative solitude and never missed the presence of someone who knew him.

Of course a few hours or even a day or two of your own exclusive company was small on the scale of things. The ten days he faced was more daunting – because he was isolated in a small section of a large vessel, in space, no way to get off if he decided he wasn't okay with commanding the Daedalus by himself after all. The situation itself added stress too – he had to manage his rations, his oxygen and power usage, and keep the lid on his own thoughts. That last part was the hardest, because he couldn't escape the fact that he was worried about Prue ... or that he missed her, intensely. He'd felt some of that when he'd been on Earth without her but the whole week in a coma followed by more weeks in the infirmary had cushioned it for him. He'd felt it on Orion too, during those days of repairs, but there he'd been able to talk to Prue, so again, the impact hadn't been as extreme.

No such cushioning here ... he felt her absence, felt empty and unsettled. It was disconcerting to understand the need of another person as being so crucial to his wellbeing.

He missed feeling his connection to the Ancients too. It was the longest he'd gone without being near something made by the Ancients – while conscious that is - since he'd arrived in surprised him that the absence added to his feeling of dislocation. He'd never really thought about it before but acknowledged within himself that he liked the gene driven parts of himself – at first they'd been a distraction, then later a puzzle he didn't have time to solve. It was only with Prue's arrival in the city that he'd begun to make them a part of who he was.

In an effort to stave off some of the more depressing or maudlin thoughts a guy stuck on a space ship all by himself might have, Evan decided to write Prue a letter every day. He wasn't sure he'd actually deliver them, but the process itself felt like communication, like keeping the connection, and as the days went on, he found that it actually did help.

He'd brought his sketch pad and a laptop McKay had allowed wouldn't impact on power consumption greatly – the letters he typed and stored in a folder just for that purpose. Since there wasn't much actual work to do, for much of the time Lorne sketched. Images of Prue from memory, a few 'what can I see out my window' sketches of space, and some pure fantasy stuff he knew Jon and Matty would love. If he'd had the artists 'care' pack his Mom had made for him Evan was sure the time would have gone much faster. He could have lost himself for hours at a time inside a landscape ... since he didn't have that capacity he also spent a lot of time listening to whatever music he could find on the laptop McKay had given him. There were a few digital books on there as well so ... all things considered, he was okay.

Colonel Sheppard contacted him at every stop too. Usually it was a 'how you holding out Major?" query he'd quickly answer with a 'fine, Sir' reply, but it did keep Lorne from feeling like he was the only person in the galaxy.

And so it went, day after day after day, as they slowly crept back home.

oOo

"Prue

Okay, so it's day seven – we're more than half way there – McKay says three more days. The Daedalus continues to maintain position inside the Hive external structure, which is lucky for me because if something went wrong I'd be stranded out here forever, especially if it relied solely on me to fix it.

Food will be gone by the end of the day ... I've been pretty frugal so I still have water for another day. I'm pretty alert ... and you know I won't be sleeping once we get close to home.

I'm sorry ... I know I've said that every letter I've written since I've been on the Daedalus, but the closer we get the more guilt ridden I am, thinking about how you'd be feeling right now. I never told you why I was just as reluctant as you at the beginning of our relationship. I didn't want to get involved ... told myself it was because I never wanted someone to hurt like my Mom hurt when my Dad was killed. That's true – I'd never want you to hurt over me Prue. But that wasn't all of it. Losing someone you love is hard ... it changes lives, changes your purpose, your direction, what motivates you. My Dad did that to my life when he was killed ... and I didn't want to give anyone else the same power. A few years back I thought maybe I could but what happened only ended up reinforcing my original opinion. (And no, that's not a story I need to tell you right now!). I can trust someone intellectually but I realised a while back that I haven't trusted anyone with my heart in ... well forever really.

Until you.

It always sounds sappy when I think about saying it aloud (when I'm not angry!) but strangely not so much to write it out. I love you Prue ... and I'd like nothing more than to know that you'll be in my life forever. I know you're not ready for that kind of declaration but take it in the spirit intended – as my commitment to trusting you with everything that I am.

The silence and the solitude must be getting to me ... I feel more in touch with my artistic side and less in touch with the military side of me. Although, I'd be prepared to offer a pretty big bribe to take an F302 out for a spin the next time we stop – the only thing stopping me is the knowledge that Colonel Sheppard would rightly label me as insane and stick me in a nice little padded room for one.

I'm okay – really. I just really want to be home right now ... with you.

Yours, Evan."

oOo

Communication fell off the last day – because everyone was struggling with lack of sleep, food and water. Lorne was faring okay but he'd run out of water the day before, and food the day before that. Funny how you could get used to not having anything, to the point that you didn't miss it. He really wasn't hungry ... but he was more than a little dry!

He hadn't slept either ... too on edge from worrying about whether they'd make it and what they'd find when they got there. That and maybe the lack of food and water were messing with his head.

"Daedalus, this is Sheppard, do you read?"

"Yes Sir, reading you loud and clear," Lorne replied.

"We're about to reach the outskirts of Lantia Major," Sheppard reported, the relief in his voice evident. "Things might get a little hairy given we can't tell them we're not a threat, so change of plans."

"Sir?" Lorne frowned. What change of plans?

"You'll stay with the Daedalus until after we make contact Major," John advised. "As soon as we know it's safe, you can transport Colonel Caldwell and the rest of the command crew to the Bridge. You'll stay with the ship until she's docked in the city."

It meant Evan would probably get back to Atlantis quicker than Sheppard's team and most of the Daedalus crew ... and after ten days alone Lorne wasn't going to look that gift horse in the mouth. "Yes Sir," he said gratefully.

"Everyone's getting the day off," John quipped, "after they clear the infirmary. Take the time Major – enjoy it."

"I will Sir ... you too," Lorne returned.

"Oh I plan on it," Sheppard's tone was purposeful and Evan wondered what resolutions John had made during the long journey home. "Sheppard out."

Lorne settled back in the Captain's chair, looking around the bridge with a degree of fondness. The Daedalus wasn't Orion but it was a representation of human ingenuity and advancement, and a pretty impressive one at that. That said though, he'd had more than enough of being in command. The sooner he could transport Colonel Caldwell over, the better.

oOo

With surprisingly little fanfare in the end, the Hive ship and Daedalus were granted safe passage to Atlantis. The relief of being back in the city was almost overwhelming. Lorne felt it before he'd even set foot on the dock ... harmonious, uplifting, no longer as mysterious as it had been the first time he'd felt it, the feedback from the Ancient systems tapped into his gene and filled his mind. He let himself be distracted for a moment, registering the differences in what he could discern and looking forward to understanding that more.

Turning his eyes from internal retrospection to the external Evan spotted Prue immediately. She was hidden in the shadows near the dock entrance, waiting for him, grabbing his attention and holding it effortlessly.

Colonel Caldwell stepped down to the dock beside Lorne. "Major," Stephen's eyes tracked to where Lorne was looking. "Ahh," the older man smiled knowingly.

"Sir?" Lorne shook himself out of his distracted state to glance at the Daedalus commander.

"Your young lady?" Caldwell enquired.

"Ah ... yes Sir," Evan was forced to admit. Not that he didn't want to claim Prue as his – it was just an unusual place for him to be in, having a partner drawing the attention of a superior officer.

"Best not keep her waiting any longer then Major," Caldwell noted.

"No Sir," Lorne kept a grin in with difficulty, taking a step forward.

"Major Lorne?"

Evan turned back to Caldwell, the question on his face. "Sir?"

"You're officially off duty," Caldwell announced. "As long as you report to the infirmary before the end of the day I don't think anyone will mind if you take some personal time."

Lorne grinned then. "Thank you Colonel," he said.

"You did well," Caldwell complimented sincerely. Lorne didn't know what to say to that – Caldwell, amused, waved him off. "Go," he said.

"Yes Sir."

Turning Lorne walked to Prue, keeping his steps slow and even. Prue didn't rush forward ... she waited until he'd joined her in the shadows. They didn't need words ... only a few moments to let each see the emotion in the other's eyes. And then she was in his arms and he was lifting her off the ground, hugging her tight, oblivious to everything but the enjoyment of being home.

Authors Note:

Yes, I did write an entire chapter around the first few minutes of Misbegotten, and all because of Sheppard's line "We're out of food and water and we haven't slept in days but, yeah, we made it." I just had to work out how to get from finding enough air on the Hive ship to being out of everything else some days later! I had to take some licence in terms of how long it would have taken to get into that state, since the timing is very blurry in the episodes. Information on how long people can survive without food and water came from health dot howstuffworks dot com.

 

Chapter 33: Misbegotten Past

A week later things had almost returned to normal in Atlantis. Not quite, because Doctor Weir was still on her way back from a forced visit to Earth. When Teyla had filled them in on that situation during the first debriefing, Lorne had been more than a little annoyed that the I.O.A. had pulled Elizabeth from command during the crisis. Looking across at Sheppard, Evan had been unsurprised to see a matching anger, along with disappointment etched on John's face. Whatever personal lessons the Colonel had learned on the journey home would have to wait – Lorne could only hope not so long that they'd lose their power to compel him to act.

Since Weir wasn't there, decisions about the fate of their Wraith converts fell to Sheppard and Caldwell. Leaving them in stasis would have been easier but McKay quickly disabused them of that as an option – the system was draining power too rapidly to make it viable that they could just keep two hundred people locked up indefinitely.

Sheppard and Caldwell had been united in their opinions – the new 'humans' couldn't stay on Atlantis, not while the retrovirus treatment had to be continually readministered. While there was any threat they could return to their Wraith state Atlantis would be at risk.

A carefully crafted story about a medical emergency and a virus that stole memories was concocted and sent along with the Hive ship and Doctor Beckett himself. They chose an isolated planet, one without a Stargate. Sheppard's team went too, to help set the Wraith up in a settlement and get them skilled enough to administer their own drugs. With any luck they'd return before Doctor Weir who was coming in on an Asgard transport to cut her trip time down to just over a week.

Colonel Caldwell was left in command of the city in the mean time, with Lorne falling into his usual role with a relief that was almost palpable. He happily caught up with paperwork, signed approvals, and looked at Sheppard's recommendations for promotions. Somewhere in the midst of weeks of drama over the Wraith ship's approach the Colonel had actually found time to complete his year end employee reviews. Evan looked down the list of people who'd completed requirements and been recommended to go up a grade, grinning broadly when he got to one specific name.

"I'll let you do the announcing on this one Major," John had written.

Still smiling, Lorne picked up the pace on the remaining requests so he could do just that.

When he found a request from Prue for an off world trip to M54-011 he put it in the pile of things Colonel Caldwell would have to approve. He recognised the planet designation as the one she'd mentioned what felt like months ago – the one with possibly the last of the dialect sources she was looking for to complete her translation program – and trusted she'd have put up a good enough case to get approval.

Requests done or stacked for the acting leader to go through, Evan quickly left his office, heading for the Mess.

"Sir," Coughlin spotted him first, straightening a little until Evan waved him back. Nate noticed the enthusiasm twinkling in his CO's eyes and settled back to find out the reason.

"Sergeant," Lorne greeted Coughlin more formally that usual. "Airman," he continued, nodding to Jimmy Cheung. When he turned to Reed he grinned. "Senior airman."

It took a moment for Dan to work it out and then a huge grin broke out over his face. "Really Sir?" he asked.

"Really," Lorne confirmed. "Colonel Sheppard recommended you for promotion in the last round of reviews," he didn't add that it was based on Evan telling Sheppard that Dan was more than ready to go up a grade. "Congratulations," he said proudly.

"Thank you Sir," Dan looked as his team mates who were also grinning with pride. "Wow," he murmured.

"If you're imagining taking over from me in the near future," Nate teased, "don't."

Coughlin was on the highest grade of staff sergeant so in real terms it would take Reed a while to catch up. By that time Lorne expected Nate would have progressed to Master Sergeant status. A team composed entirely of enlisted personnel wasn't common on Atlantis but Evan wouldn't have it any other way and counted himself lucky to have stumbled across the perfect guys for his team almost from day one.

"Wouldn't dream of it Sir," Reed countered, laughing. "No disrespect Sir," he told Lorne, "but I'm happy having the Sergeant here dealing with all the ah ... the weird stuff."

"Weird stuff?" Lorne chuckled. "That's a label we could apply to ninety percent of what goes on around here Reed."

"I guess so Sir," Reed agreed, "but there are degrees of weird."

"Okay, sure," Evan laughed outright. "Reed's degrees of weird scale. It's got a nice ring to it."

Nate and Jimmy laughed while Dan shrugged, a little embarrassed.

Lorne shook his head. "You're right in one respect though – it's gotten to the stage where the weird is starting to look normal."

"See, now you've been here long enough," Nate commented. "Personally I think I reached that stage when we had a ten thousand year old Doctor Weir in the city."

"Nanite virus that was only deadly for non gene holders," Reed countered.

Lorne had read all the reports, so he knew which incidents the guys were talking about. "What about you Cheung?"

"Not there yet, Sir," Jimmy replied, cracking a small smile.

"Still plenty of time," Lorne said reassuringly.

oOo

Colonel Caldwell approved Prue's off world request, leaving the way clear for Lorne to assign his own team to escort her. Doctor Weir was due back the following day, and with no sign of Colonel Sheppard's return, the timing was right to take Prue to M54-011 the same afternoon.

"Lorne to Doctor Darnell."

"Yes Major," Prue returned quickly. Evan could hear a hint of amusement in her tone – since they'd become 'intimate' she seemed too entertained whenever they were in a situation where she had to address him by his rank. He trusted her to do the right thing when it counted and otherwise had to admit the mischief in her eyes when she 'ranked' him in person was kind of hot.

"M54-011," he said simply.

"I can go?" Prue asked. He'd expected her to be excited and her lack of audible enthusiasm threw him for a second.

"You don't want to?" he queried, eyes narrowed.

"Of course, yes I do," Prue retorted. "Sorry – I was distracted with something else."

"No problem," Evan returned. Distractions, he understood! "Yes, you can go to oh, one, one ... if you can get your skates on quick smart. My team heads out in an hour."

"I'll be ready," Prue promised, signing off.

Evan sat back in his office, considering the woman who'd turned him upside down. There was no doubt she kept him guessing – just when he thought he had her worked out something new would occur to show him otherwise.

That's when he remembered ... the flowers, and Prue's reaction to him having received them. Lorne never followed it up because that had been the day he'd sat in the command chair the first time – and life had gotten more than a little crazy after that. At the very least he wanted to find out if the same flowers grew elsewhere. With any luck that kind of information would narrow the possibilities enough that he'd finally be able solve the mystery of who'd given them to him.

oOo

Morgan materialised as soon as he entered the hologram room, before he'd even walked to the dais. Thinking the doors closed behind him, Lorne stopped.

"Evan, welcome," she greeted him formally. "How may I help you this morning?"

"Occulus," Lorne launched straight in. "According to the database it was destroyed by the Wraith millennia ago."

"Those records are accurate," Morgan confirmed. "What is it you wish to know?"

That was the question, wasn't it? He could hardly ask how someone would go about getting flowers from a long dead planet. "Why did the Wraith destroy it?"

"The Occulans were an advanced people, one of the first to reach a level of technological advancement that would have seen them eventually equal your own race," Morgan began. "When the war with the Wraith reached its peak Occulus threw its might behind Atlantis."

"And paid the ultimate price," Lorne concluded.

"Yes," Morgan agreed. "The Wraith came without warning ... culling those citizens they could take in the first few minutes before the Darts began to fire on the cities. There were Hive ships in orbit firing as well. The Atlantians sent their own ships but it was already too late before they arrived."

"The Occulans didn't stand a chance," Evan shook his head. It was a common theme across the galaxy – the moment a race reached a level where they could threaten the Wraith, the hives responded with planet wide destruction. "Did anyone make it out?"

"Through the efforts of a brave few they found a way to break the hold the Wraith had on the Stargate," Morgan revealed. "Many hundreds of Occulans escaped and were taken in as refugees by the Atlantians, eventually sharing their fate."

"And the planet?" Evan asked, filing away the detail about it being possible to break the 38 minute hold a dial-in had on the Stargate. That was something he was sure McKay would be very interested in.

"Destroyed beyond the capability to sustain life," Morgan said, her expression bleak. "Occulus had an unstable core – her people were working to use that for the good of their civilisation but had not managed to harness the problem before the Wraith attacked. Their efforts were not sufficient to hold back the resulting explosion."

"So ... Occulus isn't there anymore?" Lorne queried.

"The remnants perhaps, but that is all," Morgan replied. "Why do you ask?"

"There was a flower," Evan admitted reluctantly. "Ah ... little star?"

"Astrum vegrandis – tiny star," Morgan corrected. "Occulus was known for it ... the flower was said to have spiritual healing powers, although this was never proven."

"Did it exist on any other planet?" Lorne asked curiously. "Aside from Occulus?"

"No. The flower became extinct when the planet was destroyed." Morgan seemed watchful as Lorne nodded, his expression thoughtful.

"So, there's no way anyone could lay their hands on some here and now," Evan concluded.

"It is unlikely," Morgan agreed. "The Occulans were a generous people but the Astrum vegrandis grew poorly on other planets." She paused. "Is there anything else I can assist you with today Evan?"

"Ah ... no," Evan returned, distracted by his thoughts. If the flower was truly extinct, there were two questions burning in his mind. How was it that he'd received multiple bunches of them? And even more important now, from whom?

Morgan shimmered, about to switch off.

"Wait!" Lorne called out.

"Yes Evan?" Morgan queried in that formal way of hers.

"Where was Occulus?" Evan asked. It didn't really matter but strangely, he wanted to know.

"I will show you," Morgan's image disappeared as a star map was projected overhead.

It had been a while but Lorne recognised it immediately ... the same pattern of stars with the same spot flashing its location insistently. Occulus was the planet the chair had shown him ... just before he'd been dropped into that waking dream.

"Now that is disturbing," he thought, eyes locked on the display. Had he called up Occulus on the star map because he'd been thinking about his conversation with Prue just prior to sitting in the chair and somehow the system picked up on it? Or was there another reason for the seeming coincidence?

"Coughlin to Lorne," Nate's voice drew Evan's attention away from the stars.

"Lorne here," Evan glanced at his watch and groaned. He was about to be late. "I'm on my way Sergeant," he said before Nate could point his tardiness out, already thinking the lights off on his way out.

oOo

The MALP they sent to M54-011 showed a planet with a dry, desert-like appearance; dark red sands, rocky near the gate, with rolling hills in all directions, leading down from the high point the gate had been situated on.

"Looks hot," Lorne commented, raising faint smiles from Reed and Coughlin.

"I'll arrange for more sunscreen and wide brimmed hats Sir," Nate quipped.

"You do that Sergeant," Lorne ordered blandly. Coughlin sighed but quickly put in a call for someone to bring what were probably pretty important additional supplies.

"No signs of anyone nearby," Chuck reported, watching the readings carefully. "The temperature is reading as one ten Major."

Lorne frowned – that was more than a little hot. At that level they'd have to be careful to keep hydrated and conserve their energy – and they wouldn't be able to stay as long as he'd planned. "Okay, let's go," Evan turned and led the way down the stairs from the control room.

"Sorry, sorry," Prue rushed in from the side corridor, breathing fast enough Evan was sure she'd run most of the way from her lab. She gave him an awkward, apologetic smile.

"You're good," he told her casually. Casting a glance at her pack he let his brow rise. "How's that pack?"

"Light enough for me to carry it Major," Prue replied, amusement dancing in her eyes.

"Good to hear." Doing a quick visual check on the rest of his team – Nate, Dan and Jimmy – Evan waved a hand towards the gate. "Move out."

The planet felt even hotter than he'd imaged from the images and readings ... as Lorne stepped through the wormhole a wave of heat hit his face, the sun's rays shining right in his eyes. Pulling out his sunglasses he moved away from the gate as he put them on.

Prue stepped through next with Coughlin at her side, Reed and Cheung completing the team. "Atlantis, all clear." Lorne reported.

"Acknowledged," Chuck returned, seconds before the wormhole dissipated. The team all took a few moments to use the sunscreen Coughlin had procured – Lorne was reminded of his first off world mission – McKay and his lifetime exposure to radiation. "I wonder what the count is now," Evan thought, smirking.

Once they were done – the necessity more than apparent by how hot they'd all gotten just preparing to head out, and they'd only get worse once they started walking – Lorne looked around quizzically.

"So," he turned to Prue. "Any idea where we'll find what you're looking for?"

"Not really," Prue looked around for a moment too before turning back to Evan. "Somewhere down that path would be my guess."

"Right, let's go," Lorne motioned for Reed and Cheung to take point, falling in behind them with Prue at his side, Coughlin bringing up their six.

"You okay?" Evan asked after they'd been walking a while.

"Of course," Prue smiled over at him. "Why wouldn't I be?"

"I don't know," Evan shrugged. "For someone who wanted to come here you seem a little reluctant, that's all."

Prue sighed. "Once I get this last part of the dialect done the translation software will be as finished as I can make it. I don't know how I feel about that."

"You'll have a place on Atlantis even without the translation project," Lorne said reassuringly. "Aside from still needing a reliable Wraith version, Rodney would hire you right now to work exclusively for his department."

"It's not that," Prue put a hand on his forearm. "I can't help but think that things will be different once it's done ... I guess I'm happy right now and I don't want anything to change."

"It won't," Evan replied firmly.

The path, a covering of small pebbles over hard packed dirt, led down through waist high rocks. A warm wind blew, acting like evaporative air conditioning as they all walked, faces glistening with sweat. It the distance low shrubs could be seen – when the path divided, that was the direction they chose.

Evan adjusted his sunglasses, running a hand through his damp hair and dislodging a few particles of sand carried there by the breeze. "This reminds me of Afghanistan," he murmured.

"Because it's hot," Prue acknowledged.

"Yeah," Evan chuckled. "That and the sand got into everything ... and I mean everything. The maintenance load for the jets was ridiculous."

"You don't talk about your past career very often," Prue commented quietly.

"I know," Lorne shrugged. "It's done, you know? The most important thing now is that everything that came before contributed to getting me to Atlantis."

"Do you miss flying jets?" Prue asked curiously.

"I do," Evan shrugged. "I know – I get to fly a Puddle Jumper regularly, and I'm just back from being in command of a space ship ... but ... you never forget your roots, right?"

"No, you never do," Prue agreed wistfully.

oOo

It took two long, exhausting hours, with regular rest stops, to reach the shrubs – low trees that stretched out over the brown sandy ground in either direction. The path continued through, narrowing slightly. If anything it felt hotter once they weren't out in the open, the breeze cut off from flowing freely over them. Talking was kept to a minimum, the heat stealing breath and moisture every time they opened their mouths.

Lorne considered talking to Prue about Occulus – what he'd found out, what she thought it meant. But the conditions were just too difficult – he was fit enough to be doing okay but Prue looked a little pale and tired.

"Stop," Prue said suddenly, her eyes on something just off the path. Before Lorne could grab her she was in the shrubbery, hurrying forward.

"Prue!" Evan shot Coughlin a shared look of irritation before Lorne took off after his impatient girlfriend.

"Here," Prue was kneeling in front of a small structure that put Lorne in mind of a miniature temple. He could see the lines of Ancient travelling up and down the outside – they'd found what they were looking for. When she turned to look at Evan her eyes glistened with tears.

"What is it?" he asked, squatting down beside her, a hand going to her shoulder in instinctive comfort.

"A memorial," Prue said softly. "I can't tell you all of it, just the few words I can translate." She pointed to one section. "This bit is about the death of a race," she said in a low tone, "and here, a plea to be remembered."

"Anything about who they were, or what happened to them?" Evan asked gently, his hand still on her shoulder.

"Not that I can tell so far," Prue sighed, settling back on her heels. "This is reason enough to finish the translation program."

"Because they deserve to be remembered?" Lorne suggested.

"Yes, these people, and others elsewhere who suffered a similar fate," Prue said intently.

"Like Occulus?" He suggested it because the planet was still on his mind.

Prue was silent for a moment, her eyes locked on the small temple. "Like Occulus," she finally agreed, her voice almost too low for him to hear. Evan saw the deep breath she took, knew that she was drawing herself back under control. "I need to record all of these sections," she announced briskly.

"Can I help?"

Prue shot him a small, amused smile. "Did you bring your crayons?"

He laughed, stroking a hand over her hair because something in him needed to comfort her. "No, but I'm sure you have spares."

"I do," Prue stood, holding out a hand to pull him up too. For a moment she hesitated but then, with a rush, she threw herself into his arms. He let her, hugging her close because she seemed to need it. With his eyes on where they'd come from, Lorne saw Coughlin holding back, Reed and Cheung maintaining position on the path.

"Do you want to talk about this now?" Evan asked in a gentle tone, stroking a hand up and down her back comfortingly.

"Not here," Prue replied. She nestled her cheek against his chest for a moment and then with a sigh stepped back. "We need to hurry. I don't know about you but I feel like the heat is sapping all the strength out of me."

"You're not used to it," Lorne commented. "None of us are." He put a hand to her shoulder. "Are you okay to continue? We could come back another time, bring a Jumper now we know where your Ancient text is."

"No, I want to do this now," Prue smiled. "I'll be fine."

Reluctantly Lorne nodded, stepping back to let her get on with her work. It was difficult feeling like you wanted to look after someone but knowing you had to give them the space to do their work. He'd step back this time, let Prue do what she'd come to do. But he'd keep an eye on her too.

oOo

They spent an hour making wax impressions of the little temple and taking photos of the site before Prue was ready to go back to Atlantis. The walk back to the gate was just as draining as the one there had been, more so because of the time they'd spent mostly stationary under the harsh sun ... by the time they got there Lorne felt like he'd lost a few kilos in moisture alone – and that was with the regular water breaks he'd insisted they all take. Evan cast Prue a concerned glance – she was listless and clearly operating on autopilot, enough that she didn't protest when he took her pack, slinging it over his own shoulder.

Back on Atlantis Lorne moved to herd his team and Prue quickly to the infirmary.

"Major?" Caldwell queried, leaving the control room and stopping halfway down the stairs.

"The planet was very hot Sir," Lorne excused his rush. "We're all pretty exhausted."

"Of course," Caldwell nodded, his eyes narrowed on the team in concern. "Get to the infirmary. We'll debrief in the morning."

"Thank you Sir," Lorne gave the temporary commander of the city a grateful nod before continuing on his way.

Carson was quick to react when they walked in, dividing the team up between the available doctors and moving quickly through the usual examinations.

"Well, you're all dehydrated and suffering from mild heat stroke," he advised after everyone was done, his expression serious. "Plenty of fluids, a good night's sleep, and you should all be right as rain by morning."

"Thanks Doc," Evan said. Carson nodded, made to move away but Lorne called him back. "Ah ... is she okay?" he nodded his head towards Prue.

"She doesn't have the same physical reserves as the rest of you," Carson pointed out. "But yes, she'll be fine Major. I suggest you take her to the Mess first – plenty of water, some fruit – and then make sure she gets to bed early."

"I can do that," Evan half smiled. "Again, thank you Carson."

"You're welcome lad," Carson smiled, slapping a hand to Lorne's shoulder before moving away.

Evan levered himself off the examination table and straightened, putting his hand back on the bed to steady himself when the move left him feeling a little dizzy. Since it was minor in the whole scheme of things he pushed it to the side and strode across to where Prue was still sitting. "Come on, let's get you out of here," he suggested gently. Putting an arm around her shoulders he helped Prue stand, sticking close until he felt her find her feet.

"I can walk by myself Major," Prue insisted, her pride rising to the surface and lending her some energy.

"I'm sure you can," Evan agreed, "but since I'm fond of having my arm around you I think I'll leave it where it is, unless you object?" He raised a brow at her expectantly.

"No, no objections," Prue smiled slightly, resting a little of her weight against Evan as they began walking.

"Mess?" he queried Coughlin on the way out.

"Yes Sir," Nate nodded, urging Reed and Cheung to follow along.

The team settled into a table, all of them loaded with bottles of water and whatever fruit was on offer. It wasn't the usual talkative team Lorne, all of them silent as they tiredly quenched their thirst.

"So, we cross M54-011 off the list of team vacation spots, right?" Reed finally found a little of his usual spark.

Lorne gave a tired chuckle. "Hell yes," he returned.

"It wasn't always like that," Prue offered, her tone low.

"Yeah, from the looks of their sun, they were going red giant a long time ago," Lorne agreed.

"But we didn't see any signs of habitation, Sir," Jimmy reminded them.

"Sand, Airman," Evan mimicked shifting hills with one hand. "Given enough time, it'll cover everything like it was never there at all. That happened on M54-011 a long time ago – those shrubs didn't spring up overnight."

"What about that temple thing?" Reed looked to Prue for an answer.

"The top of the tallest spire," Prue explained. "According to the Ancient database it was a common practise to place acknowledgements to the gods at the highest points. When they realised what would happen I expect the residents of M54-011 carved that memorial and put it as high as they could go, hoping that one day someone would come along to find it."

"And today, someone did," Reed smiled, clearly liking that as an example of full circle.

"Yes, today we did," Prue agreed. "And once I extrapolate a translation protocol for that specific dialect and match it to examples from the database I'll be able to add them to the historical records so that no one ever forgets them again."

"Tomorrow," Lorne said firmly. Prue looked like she wanted to protest – Evan was sure she would have if Nate and the others hadn't been there. Any protests she made would be empty because she wasn't capable of putting in any more hours that day. The fact that she was flagging again, the simple conversation seeming to wear her out, spoke its own story.

Evan stood, moving to pack up his and Prue's trays. "I can do that Sir," Coughlin offered, his eyes on Prue, concerned.

"Thanks Nate," Evan smiled, grabbing a couple of bottles of water and then moving to Prue's side. "Come on you – time for that trip to dreamland."

Prue let him draw her up, leaning against him when he adjusted their positions so that he could support her with one arm around her. They walked through the city like that, him taking some of her weight, until they arrived at her door.

Lorne didn't ask – overriding the door lock with barely a flex of his mental muscles he escorted Prue inside, not stopping until he had her sitting on her bed. She watched, a small smile on her face, as he knelt and purposefully took off her boots. "You okay to get cleaned up?" Evan asked when he was done. "I could call Jennifer, if you need help."

"Why would I want Jennifer to help when I have you?" Prue asked, reaching out and touching a light hand to his hair.

"You're okay with that?" Evan checked, feeling himself flush a little. Ridiculous as it was, helping Prue shower and change for sleep seemed somehow more intimate than making love to her would have.

Rather than tease him about his embarrassment, Prue smiled. "I'm okay with that."

"Right, sure, of course," Evan took a moment to get a mental hold of himself and then moved briskly into action.

He wouldn't have said later that he was clinical, but he managed to do what Prue needed without being too obvious about where some of his thoughts had naturally gone. Within the hour he was helping her under the covers of her bed, smoothing them over her before stepping back. He thought the lights down to low, just enough for him to see his way to the door.

They were still at the stage of not staying in each other's quarters overnight – it was one of those lines Prue had drawn that he'd been unable to shift. While she left Evan to sleep and wake alone she could pretend that his life hadn't become hopelessly entwined with hers.

"Stay," her words stopped him in his tracks.

"I ah ...," Evan hesitated, turning back to look at her still form in the shadows.

"Take a shower and come to bed," Prue insisted sleepily.

"Okay," Evan smiled, another layer of amour around his heart disappearing.

Already half asleep, she turned to him when he slid into the bed beside her, shifting until her head rested over his heart. Then, with an exhalation of breath she relaxed. "Evan," it was his name but she murmured it like an endearment.

"Prue," he put emotion into his intonation too, feeling her smile against his chest. "Go to sleep," he told her firmly.

"'kay," she sighed again, falling all the way to sleep between one breath and another.

Evan tightened his arm around her, staring up at the ceiling, his thoughts circling. He wasn't blind to the fact that Prue's sadness over still-unknown-to-him past events seemed heightened when she discovered things in the Ancient database like civilisations that hadn't survived to the present. Because she empathised?

Had she lost more than just her best friend? Had she lost her entire family? He hated to think of her suffering such a tragedy but the comments she'd made, the connections she seemed to draw with other losses, seemed telling to him. He didn't want to be right but if it turned out he was, he'd do everything he possibly could to help her cope with her memories.

Shifting to get comfortable in the narrow bed, Evan willed himself relax until eventually he fell asleep too.

 

Chapter 34: Almost Irresistible

Carson had been right – they all did feel better after the night's sleep, with no lingering traces of dehydration or heat stroke the following morning. Evan had been looking forward to waking up beside Prue but instead he woke up to her empty room and a note telling him she'd gone down to her lab early. Wondering whether she regretted relying on him the previous evening, Lorne decided to just take it at face value. She was a step away from completing a project she'd been working on for almost a year – of course she'd be eager to get to work.

It was easy for him to put it out of his mind because Doctor Weir finally arrived back in the city, transporting down from the Asgard transport that had returned both her and an unexpected guest. Richard Woolsey ... public face of the I.O.A. Lorne had come across the man from time to time and couldn't decide whether he should feel sorry for him or consign him to the 'useless stooge in a suit' basket.

"Ma'am, welcome back," Evan greeted Elizabeth as he strode down from the Control Room.

"Major, it's good to be back," Weir looked around the Gateroom as though she expected to see changes. "Where are we at on the hive ship?"

Lorne cast Woolsey a curious glance and then looked at the city's leader. "Colonel Sheppard's team and Doctor Beckett should be back in the next day or so."

Elizabeth's eyes narrowed as she considered the various reasons why John and the others weren't there. "Perhaps you could have someone show Mr Woolsey to his quarters," she suggested.

"Yes Ma'am," Lorne motioned for one of the marines on duty to step forward, giving the order.

"Thank you Doctor, Major," Woolsey smiled but on him it looked somewhat ... insincere. He looked around the Gateroom for a moment and then nodded. "I trust you'll make yourself available for interview Major," he commented, nodding again before following the marine away.

"Interview?" Lorne looked at Elizabeth curiously as they walked up the steps to her office.

"I'm being evaluated," Weir said it with a hint of resignation and annoyance in equal parts.

"Ah, I see," Evan shook his head. "The I.O.A. have nothing better to do?"

"Unfortunately not Major," Elizabeth returned, settling into her chair with a smile. After taking a moment to reacquaint herself with her space, she looked at Lorne consideringly. "It seems you've recovered well from the journey home."

"Yes Ma'am," Lorne agreed. "I spent most of the trip on the Daedalus. I suspect that was a good deal easier than being on the hive ship with everyone else."

"In some respects," Elizabeth smiled. "I expect Rodney was ... difficult."

"The crew ran out of food a couple of days out from Atlantis," Lorne replied. "With his condition they made special provisions but ... well, you know Doctor McKay, Ma'am."

"Yes," Weir said feelingly. "Now, tell me, where did they go that they're now travelling back?"

Lorne settled back in his chair, spending as much time as was needed to fill Weir in on everything she'd missed.

oOo

The day was busy enough that Evan didn't catch up with Prue again until the end of his shift. When he got to her lab and saw her hunched over her keyboard, he grinned.

"It's good to see that some things remain constant," he quipped, leaning against the door frame. When she didn't reply, his humour dropped away and he regarded her closely ... she looked tired and a little defeated. "Did you leave the lab at all today?" he asked.

"No," Prue looked up briefly but then returned to frowning at her screen.

"Problems?" Evan shifted to walk inside, stopping when he could stand at her shoulder and see what she was seeing. "You know, one day you'll have to teach me to read that."

"I can't even teach myself to read it," Prue retorted.

"Okay, so it's not going well," Evan put his hands on her shoulders and squeezed bracingly. "And you need to take a break."

She stiffened for a moment and then slumped, letting out a sigh. Rubbing a hand over her brow, Prue nodded. "You're right. A walk?" she suggested.

"Fresh air sounds like just what the Doctor ordered," Lorne agreed. There weren't too many places for a long walk outside so he decided to head for the longest Pier – by the time they got to the end hopefully Prue would be feeling a little more relaxed.

Night was falling and the sky slowly changed from blue to a deep purpley black with swirls of orange and yellow in it. A faint breeze brushed over them as they strolled. Once out on the pier Evan held out a hand, smiling when Prue took it, shifting to walk closer to him.

"Better?" he asked once they'd reached the end. Before them was the ocean, almost still, mirroring the colours of the sky. The city was behind them but the pier felt isolated enough they could have been the only two people awake.

Prue took a deep breath, letting it out slowly, her eyes on the horizon. "Seeing the ocean, so vast ... I wonder what its hiding?"

"McKay could tell you," Evan quipped. "I know one thing ... there are whales out there somewhere, or as near as."

"You like whales?" Prue queried, smiling.

"Who doesn't?" Evan joked back.

Prue chuckled, shifting until she could rest her back against his chest. Lorne wrapped his arms around her waist, resting his head against her hair as she moved to lay her hands over his.

"So tell me," Evan invited.

"I'm sorry about yesterday," Prue said.

"Sorry?" Evan frowned as he thought back. "Nothing for you to apologise for."

"Yes there is," Prue insisted, shifting a little to look up at him. "Doing what I do – looking through the database – is like living history sometimes. So much has been lost Evan ... races who could have been ... amazing. Sometimes the sadness of that ... it reminds me too much of other ... losses," she admitted in a low tone. "It overwhelms me – but I shouldn't have let it show during the mission."

"There's no rule about not being able to have an honest human reaction Prue," Evan returned. "Or in showing some compassion for the past. And sometimes it's difficult to distinguish the job from the personal - especially if it cuts close."

He waited, giving her space to pick up the cue he'd created, but she didn't ... and it wasn't something he could push. Whatever tragedy Prue had suffered in her past - and he was convinced now that there was something - she had to give him voluntarily. And clearly she wasn't ready yet. With a sigh Evan drew her closer again. "Don't be so hard on yourself," he said gently.

"I ... okay," Prue sighed.

Evan held her close for a few moments and then half smiled. "I can almost hear the wheels turning Prue ... what else is on your mind?"

"I'm being silly," Prue admitted. "Usually it takes a lot longer than a day to add a new dialect to the translation system, but because this is the last one I can insert suddenly I'm impatient." She shook her head against him. "What makes it even more ridiculous is that it may not be the last system of Ancient – I only think it is because the database here doesn't have any evidence to suggest otherwise and we haven't found anything different out in the field."

"The database has always been pretty comprehensive," Lorne pointed out, "but there are ten thousand odd years of updates the Ancients couldn't do because they weren't here."

"Exactly my point," Prue said irritably.

"But," Evan continued, "if they weren't here to keep their database up to date then they also weren't here to corrupt their own language. I'd be more worried about what they changed before they started taking notes."

Prue was silent for a moment but then she laughed, turning in Evan's arms so she could look up at him. "You do have a unique way of looking at things, don't you?" she said fondly.

"I try," Lorne quipped.

"Well, thank you," Prue pushed up on tip toes and pressed a kiss to his cheek. When she made to shift back again, Evan tightened his arms.

"Not so fast," he said intently. "I'm not done on the thanking me thing."

"Oh?" Prue smiled.

"Oh," Lorne repeated. Pulling her upwards, he drew her into a kiss that was an entire conversation undertaken with the meeting of lips. He had them both flushed with the heat of desire before he was satisfied that the only thing on Prue's mind was him. "Okay," he said, letting her heels drop back to the ground. "Now I'm done."

Prue looked dazed for a moment ... but quickly shifted into determined. "And what if I'm not done?" she demanded.

"Then I guess dinner can wait a little longer," Evan murmured, drawing her up again.

oOo

Eventually Colonel Sheppard and his team returned to Atlantis, having set up the 'new' human colony of Wraith as they'd planned. The only downside to the mission was Doctor Beckett's unwillingness to leave the Wraith to their own devices. Sheppard had conceded that they needed more time to make sure the treatments would continue to be effective and to ensure the routine of administering them was understood by those Carson had trained for that purpose. When Lorne caught up with John he could tell the Colonel was less than impressed with the situation. Evan knew the Colonel had spoken with Doctor Weir but despite the 'sharing' they'd done while sitting dead in space on the Daedalus, he didn't feel it was his place to question his CO's progress, much as he would have liked.

The presence of Richard Woolsey put a damper on everything ... everyone knew he was there to evaluate Elizabeth and therefore no one wanted to talk to him. Evan didn't believe for one minute that the IOA rep was looking for positives ... no, they were looking for a reason to lay the blame for the remote threat to Earth posed by their letting a Wraith queen into the city on someone shoulders, and Weir was the most likely candidate for that.

When it was his turn to speak to Woolsey, Lorne turned up on time, his expression bland enough that even Prue would have struggled to work out what he was thinking.

"Major," Woolsey greeted him briskly, "please, have a seat."

Evan sat down, casting the other man an expectant look as he waited - because no way was he speaking first. He wasn't out to make it difficult but he wasn't going to make it easy either.

"You were on the Orion during the recent crisis, correct?" Woolsey asked, glancing up from his papers.

"That's right," Lorne agreed.

"And in command when the ship was destroyed by the Wraith Doctor Weir entered into an agreement with," Woolsey continued.

"No," Evan answered.

Woolsey frowned. "You weren't in command?"

"I was in command of the Orion but it wasn't destroyed by our hive ship," Lorne corrected. "There was a second Hive present when we entered the battle."

"One affiliated with our supposed allies," Woolsey pointed out, "who were therefore indirectly responsible for the destruction of what would have been a valuable asset to the city."

"The Orion hadn't been in service for thousands of years," Evan returned. "She was carrying a lot of damage, despite our concerted efforts to repair her."

"Even more reason not to send the ship into battle," Richard countered. "But then, we didn't really have a choice given the threat to Earth. From all the reports it seems obvious that Wraith would even now be orbiting Earth but for the contribution of the Orion - a ship mere luck put into our hands."

"With respect Mr Woolsey," Lorne began, "it wasn't luck that gave us an Ancient ship. The assistance we provide to the people in this galaxy - our program of forging alliances instigated and managed by Doctor Weir - is ultimately what led to our acquisition of the Orion."

Woolsey gave a half grimace, made a note in his file, and then turned the page. "It was Doctor Weir's decision to pursue use of Doctor Beckett's retrovirus as a means of subduing the Wraith threat," he said. "From your own military perspective is that a decision that can be justified, given its consequences?"

"Since I was at the SGC during the entirety of that experiment I don't think I'm well placed to comment," Lorne returned.

"Come now Major," Woolsey tried on a half smile that looked uncomfortable. "You're a seasoned officer with years of experience - surely enough to have an opinion."

"Do I think the Wraith are a threat worthy of trying any means to defeat them?" Evan shot back. "Yes I do. The Ancients spent thousands of years at war and didn't make a dent. Negotiating won't work and there is nothing we have that they want enough to treat us as anything other than a means to survival. Playing it safe will keep Atlantis operational but it won't have an impact on the lives of the people who live here."

"So you think our allies would condone the creation of Michael?" Woolsey asked disbelievingly.

"I think it's too easy to look at something in hindsight and pick apart the actions that lead to that conclusion," Evan returned. "There must be things in your own career of a similar nature Mr Woolsey, decisions you'd make differently if you had the luxury of hindsight."

Richard grimaced again, his expression enough to give Lorne his answer. Yeah, there were definitely things there the IOA man would like to take back. "Does Doctor Weir have the full support of the military leadership here in the city?" he asked, abruptly changing the subject.

"Colonel Sheppard and Doctor Weir provide the city with strong leadership," Lorne replied. "If you want more detail than that you'll have to ask Colonel Sheppard directly."

"You're second in command here Major Lorne," Woolsey pointed out.

"If you're asking whether Doctor Weir has my support then yes, she does," Lorne could feel his impatience rising at the man's continued attempts to get him to discredit Elizabeth in some way. "I've never found her to be anything other than professional and reasoned in her approach to leading this expedition. She cares about the people - here and on all the planets we visit."

"But you've only been here just over a year," Richard made another note and Evan held back the desire to shake his head, imagining he'd written something like 'Ignore Major Lorne's opinion - was absent during bad decisions made by city leadership.'

"I've been here long enough," he corrected blandly. "After all - you've been here a few days, which apparently is more than sufficient to form your own opinion on how the city is managed."

Woolsey narrowed his eyes, not liking that. "The IOA are disappointed at the lack of real gains from having this expedition here Major," he said. "The expense is not inconsiderable and yet for a city with so many wonders it's curious that none have made their way back to Earth. Can you offer an explanation for that?"

"We're talking about technology that's been around thousands of years, that wasn't created for our use," Lorne offered. "Plug and play isn't an option, despite what you see in the movies. That's not to say we won't be able to reengineer viable technologies eventually - that's something you'd have to talk to Doctor McKay about."

Woolsey jotted down more notes, and turned another page.

With outward patience Lorne continued to answer questions as the man slowly made his way back through the various decisions made by Doctor Weir until he'd covered the time period Evan could reasonably be expected to comment on.

"That's all Major," he finally said, not adding a thank you, not that Lorne expected one.

Getting up, Evan stood for a moment and then spoke. "I understand the need for evaluation Mr Woolsey and I'm sure you have a process you're required to follow," he said quietly. "But what is it they say about spending a day walking in another man's shoes?"

Richard's brows rose in surprise ... his gaze sharpening as he considered Lorne anew. Evan met his eyes, satisfied to see that the wheels were turning. That was enough, so without out further conversation he turned and left the room, hoping he'd not have to sit through any more sessions like that.

oOo

Hindsight kicked in for Atlantis a few days later when they lost contact with the Wraith colony. Using their new Hive ship and the skills of Teyla, Sheppard and his team set off to find out why, returning a day later via the Daedalus with Doctor Beckett in tow. As feared, some of the Wraith had reverted and succeeded in sending out a subspace signal before Sheppard could rescue Carson and use the weapons of the Hive ship to destroy the colony. They only just managed to get out in a Puddle Jumper before another Hive ship arrived, destroying Sheppard's vessel and leaving them stranded in space in a cloaked Jumper. Luckily the Daedalus had been dispatched to assist and was able to pick up the Jumper and her crew and return them to Atlantis much faster than would have been possible otherwise.

Woolsey completed his evaluation and gave his recommendation that the leadership of the city should remain unchanged ... the last part of returning the day to day back to what it had been before Michael arrived.

Returning to routine highlighted for Evan how distracted he'd been ... he'd spent time with Prue but since the mission to M54-011 hadn't been actively involved in her completing her translation program. After her early frustration Prue had settled in to patiently plug away at the task ... when he went to her lab at the end of the day shortly after Woolsey's return to Earth, he knew immediately that she was finally done.

Instead of being hunched over her console she was standing at the window, her arms folded over her stomach.

"So," Evan said as he approached, resting his hands lightly on her shoulders.

"So," she repeated, shifting to glance up at him before returning her attention to the ocean.

"You're done?" he queried.

"As much as I can be," Prue agreed.

"And you're less than happy because ...?" he urged her to turn and look at him.

Rather than answer Prue shifted and rested her head against his chest. With a sigh she let him take some of her weight.

Evan wrapped her in a warm hug for a few moments before he shifted back to look down at her. "You're tired," he commented. "How about we make it an early night?"

"Okay," Prue willingly let him take care of her without a single comment.

oOo

"Do it Major!" Colonel Sheppard yelled.

A gloom that covered the sky was moving to engulf the city but this was no ordinary storm. Energy pulsed from within, powered by entities who wanted to destroy the foundations of what made the inhabitants of Atlantis what they were.

"Major!" John was glaring at Evan now.

"I don't understand Sir," Evan protested, both of them flinching as a pulse of energy hit the tower, sending sparks flying.

"The shields won't hold," McKay looked sick as he turned to Sheppard. "We are all so dead!"

"Unless the Major can activate the shield," John turned back to Evan, demanding action.

"But McKay just said it won't hold," Lorne protested.

"Not that shield Major, the other one," Sheppard insisted.

"What other one Sir?" Lorne yelled, frustrated. "I don't know what you're talking about!"

"Because you failed to practice as we urged you to," Morgan, the hologram shimmered into life in front of him. "And now you have sealed all our fates, and the fate of those you love back on Earth."

"They're breaking through!" McKay yelled.

Light flashed before everything went out ... lights, equipment, the city itself ... and somewhere in the distance, Prue was screaming for help.

Gasping, Evan lurched up in bed, the lights in his room switching to full without his conscious thought.

"Evan?" Prue blinked, pushing back her hair as she sat up beside him.

"Sorry," he held his palms over his eyes, trying to wipe out the echo of something they'd never seen. "All in your head," he told himself repeatedly.

"Can I help?" she asked gently, putting a hand on his back.

"It was just a stupid dream," Evan shook his head, casting her an apologetic look. "I'm sorry I woke you Prue."

"It's okay," she smiled. "Would you think me silly if I said I'm happy about it? Because me being here like this is still fresh and new ... I've got a place that means I get to see this side of you ... and I'm rambling," she laughed awkwardly.

"You're beautiful," Lorne countered, shifting to put his arm around her. "And very understanding," he added, lying down again with Prue beside him. Thinking the lights off, he gathered her close.

"Will you tell me about the dream?" she asked in the darkness.

"It was stupid really," Evan admitted. "I must have been thinking about that damned prophesy thing – probably because the Wraith are no longer an immediate threat. Now my subconscious is trying to fill in the blanks with other threats to the city."

"So you don't usually have nightmares like that?"

"No," Evan hesitated, and then sighed. "Okay, there is a precedent, but not like this. I used to sleepwalk sometimes, until I was ten when it stopped."

"When your father died," Prue guessed gently.

"Yeah," Evan agreed, absently running a strand of her hair through his fingers. "After that I had nightmares, every night at first but over the years they've dwindled to almost never. Can't recall the last time I had one."

"I feel sad that you suffered such a loss so young," Prue had her hand on his chest, her fingers offering him a comforting caress that had him smiling.

"It's been a long time Prue," he said. "I've accepted that my Dad would have stayed if he could. Not that I don't still miss having him around." He grinned. "Man, if he could see where I am, what I get to fly every day, he'd be camped out at the door prepared to wait until someone let him in."

"He flew too?"

"It was flying that -," Evan stopped, corrected himself. "Flying didn't kill him but he was flying when he died. Part of a special navy team - the Blue Angels. Something went wrong with his plane and he ejected too late. No one else was hurt though - they said because of him."

"It sounds like his son might take after him in all the good ways," Prue suggested gently.

"I'd like to think so," Evan agreed. Taking her by surprise he rolled until he was looming over her, pressing her deliciously into the mattress with his body. "Since we're awake anyway," he smiled, dropping a teasing kiss to her lips and rearing away when she surged up to make it more.

Laughing, he repeated the teasing gesture, adding hands that held him over her but took away the weight of him that she craved. She lunged upward again and again he evaded her.

"You are an exasperating man Evan Lorne!" Prue struggled not to laugh as she mock glared up at him. "I must be insane to have fallen in love with you."

The humour fled from his eyes as they met hers, reading seriousness and resolve. "Insane in a happy way?" he still asked.

"How would you put it?" Prue pretended to think and then grinned. "Hell yes!"

He kissed her then, gave her his weight, as hot and heavy as they both wanted it.

"I won't pretend I'm not scared of what comes next," Prue gasped out as Evan trailed a line of fire down her neck with his lips. "But I do love you ... and I'm happy right now."

"Nothing has to change Prue," Evan promised, returning his attention to her lips and effectively cutting off further conversation. They still communicated non verbally though – body language that spoke of love and tenderness and heat and passion, all mixed with that zing of recognition and connection between them.

And if he was fighting back tiredness the next day it only took remembering that Prue loved him to have him deciding it was more than worth it.

oOo

In the few weeks that followed, life was unusually quiet on Atlantis. Prue declared her translation program as complete as it could be, and with obvious relief signed it over to Doctor Weir. It wasn't hers anymore, it was everyone's, and while she seemed a little quiet Evan was also sure she was happy to be able to move on to something else. For himself, it was business as usual, including preparing for the Daedalus's next arrival. That and the usual off world missions.

"What're your plans for the day?" he asked Prue one morning - they'd finished an early breakfast and were walking back towards her lab.

"Doctor Zelenka is briefing me on what they have for the Wraith translator," Prue began. "And Captain Kennedy's team is escorting me on city exploration."

"That's today?" Evan blinked. He knew Prue's schedule pretty well but he didn't approve her requests for specific things like a military escort for research within the city. His team had a scheduled mission to check on crop progress with one of their suppliers, otherwise he would have offered to switch with Kennedy. Instead he had to concede that Prue was right – he couldn't always be the one watching over her.

"You're the one who keeps getting into trouble anyway," she pointed out. "Maybe I should be trying to recruit a team to protect you!"

"Don't pretend you don't already have Nate lined up for that duty," Lorne teased, earning a laugh from Prue. "So, I'll see you when we get back," he said.

"Be careful," Prue ordered, keeping her expression calm.

"Hey, you too," Evan shot back. Grabbing her hand he tugged her in for quick hug, pressing a chaste kiss to her cheek. "Bye," he said in a low tone, touching a hand to her hair before he turned and headed back towards the locker room to gear up.

oOo

"Why is it that the planets all look the same as back on Earth but the crops are totally different?" Reed queried as they team walked back towards the gate. They'd made contact with their allies, toured the fields and been roped into service to begin the harvest, before returning to the village for dinner. It was a good mission, satisfying because Atlantis would be receiving fresh produce within the week.

"That's a good question," Coughlin returned. "What do you think boss?" he smirked as he neatly handballed their younger team mate's question to Lorne.

"I think we should have brought Parrish along to answer that," Evan said easily. "But, in the absence of our resident botanist, I'd guess it's because the similarities are only surface ... you start digging and that's when you discover the differences underneath."

"It looks like one thing but it's really something else," Reed summarised. "That sounds plausible Sir."

"Well then, I'm glad I could help you out there Airman," Lorne drawled, holding his amusement in check.

They cleared the trees before anyone could comment, the Stargate looming into sight.

"Dial Atlantis," Lorne nodded for Reed to do the honours. The gate spun, the chevrons locking in before the wormhole burst forward and snapped into place. "Atlantis, this is Major Lorne," Evan said, entering his IDC. "I know we're ahead of schedule but we're all done here."

"Acknowledged Sir. The shield is down," Chuck replied

"Right, let's go," Lorne nodded for Coughlin to lead the way, the rest of the team falling in behind him with Evan at the rear. When he stepped back onto Atlantis and saw Colonel Sheppard standing there waiting for them, Lorne knew immediately that something was wrong.

"Sir?" he stopped in front of his CO, his eyes narrowing at the Colonel's very serious expression.

"Lorne, good to have you back," Sheppard began.

"Routine mission Sir," Evan dismissed the small talk quickly. "Maybe you should just tell me what's wrong Sir."

"Captain Kennedy's team missed check-in," Sheppard revealed. "I sent out another team to go look where they were supposed to be – Prue filed a pretty detailed exploration plan – but there was no sign of them. Sensors haven't picked up anything ... as of right now they've disappeared into thin air."

 

Chapter 35: Still resisting

"You tried the life signs detector?" Lorne queried, his mind racing. If he was remembering right Prue was out on the south west pier – the infamous site of their first kiss. Frowning, he tried to recall what had been out there – he'd been distracted at the time, and annoyed that Prue was where she shouldn't be. This time she had permission and a military escort, but had still managed to find trouble.

"Went down there with it myself," Sheppard replied. "Nothing – not even a faint blip."

"You won't mind if I try that myself, will you Sir?" Evan didn't even blink when John held out an ancient scanner.

"Thought you'd want to check it out for yourself," the Colonel commented.

Lorne nodded, breaking into long strides as he headed for the nearest transporter to take him to the remote section of the city.

Sheppard kept up easily, motioning for the rest of Lorne's team to hang back for now. Evan didn't notice, all of his attention focussed on finding Prue.

"McKay is adapting the internal sensors to try scanning inside the shielded areas," John said. "And we have three teams sweeping the surrounding floors and the route they would have taken to get there, just in case Kennedy let himself get distracted before they got to their logged destination."

"How long?" Evan asked as they walked into the transporter.

Sheppard let Lorne pick their destination, waiting for the sweep of the beam to deposit them at their new location before he answered. "Since they missed check in, four hours," he said. "They probably just activated some kind of partial lockdown – wouldn't be the first time."

Lorne tried to believe that was the case but a big part of him wasn't buying it. He's already tapped into Atlantis, looking for signs of something like that, without getting anything back. Wherever Prue and Kennedy's team were, it wasn't going to be as simple as just opening a door this time.

Sheppard led the way, down a couple of levels and through a few winding corridors until they were on one of the lower floors of the south west pier tower. Smaller than the main towers it still had plenty of rooms, most of those on the lower floors not yet explored.

"This the spot?" he asked once Colonel Sheppard drew to a stop. From memory they were a level down from where he'd found Prue on a pivotal day that seemed like a long time ago now.

Sheppard nodded. "This is the room Prue requested approval to explore."

"Okay," Lorne walked slowly inside, trying to get a feel for the place first. It looked familiar because it followed the same basic layout and decor as all the other labs in the city. The Ancient's hadn't been big on architectural variety. Activating the life signs detector, Evan did a walk through along each wall, his eyes on the readout.

"Anything?" Sheppard stepped closer, looking over Lorne's shoulder at the display.

"Not exactly Sir," Lorne replied. Frowning, he glanced up at the far wall and then back to the ancient device.

"Is it something or not Major?" John asked pointedly, drawing Evan's attention back to him.

Some part of Lorne read the worry in his CO's eyes and felt kind of touched at the genuine regard the other man had for him and therefore for Prue. As the CO of the entire base he was obviously concerned about Kennedy and his men too and looked just as impatient as Evan to find them.

"These dimensions are way off Sir," Lorne explained, holding out the scanner so John could read the screen. Where there should have been a dividing wall there was instead a large space going all the way to the old external wall.

"There's some kind of chamber behind there," Sheppard concluded. Striding forward he put his hand on the wall, his expression intent. "I can just barely make out some kind of system running back there," his expression turned frustrated as he continued, "but I can't activate it from this far away ... there's gotta be something more here."

Evan put his own hand on the wall, turning away from his CO slightly so he could concentrate. "Is there a way in to the chamber behind this wall?" he asked the city. Focussed fully on the feedback he was getting mentally, it didn't take Lorne long to work out that the answer was no, not from this side.

"We need to get closer Sir," he said to Sheppard. Not waiting for a directive from John, Lorne strode from the wall, pausing in the doorway before turning right and heading for the stairs. He jogged up one flight and came out on the floor above, moving quickly to the room that would be directly over the chamber they wanted to get into.

"Okay," he murmured, standing in the centre of the room and focussing once again internally, hardly aware that John had followed and was standing beside him, watching the Major intently. "What about now? Can I get inside that chamber from here?"

This time the static sounded like an affirmative ... so Evan walked forward slowly until he was almost toe to toe with the far wall. Touching his hand to the cold stone he moved towards the corner until instinct told him to stop.

"What the hell are you doing Lorne?" Sheppard asked with a hint of exasperation.

"Ah ... searching for the door Sir," Lorne said distractedly, crouching low. He knew when he had the right spot ... with a firm mental command to "Open!" the door, he just barely had time to lurch back before a portion of the floor slide back into the wall, revealing the room below.

Sheppard crouched too, his torch in hand. Shining it downwards, both men tensed when the beam of light played over four bodies stretched out below, none of them moving. "Wait!" Sheppard shot out when Lorne jumped to his feet, everything in him about getting down to Prue as soon as he could. "You can't just leap down there Major ... we don't know what happened to them yet and the last thing I need is for the same thing to happen to you!"

"With all due respect Sir, I'm not going to stand around up here when I could be doing something to help," Lorne protested.

Sheppard's eyes narrowed as he considered the barely veiled intent to defy any order he might give that kept Lorne away from Prue. Grabbing the life signs detector, John's expression smoothed out as he read the display. "Picking up four life signs, all strong," he announced.

"Permission to go down there Sir," Lorne made it sound more like a statement of fact rather than a request, and Sheppard couldn't help the resulting smirk.

"Who's in charge here Major?" he queried, amused.

"You are of course Sir," Evan returned promptly. "Please don't make me do something we'll both regret."

"Okay – get down there, but for god's sake be careful okay," John returned. "Elizabeth will have my head if I let anything happen to you. For some reason she seems to think we need you around."

"Someone has to go out and rescue you Sir," Lorne commented. His attention was more on the level below that it was on the conversation though. There was really only one way to get down there ... crouching, he grabbed the edge of the doorway in the floor and without pause swung his legs into the hole. Hanging on for a moment, he let go, dropping lightly to the floor. As soon as he landed the lights in the room flickered and then came on - dim, just enough to illuminate the unconscious team ... Kennedy, Jones and Miller closer to the wall with Prue nearer to the centre.

He didn't remember moving but the next instance he was on his knees next to Prue. She was stretched out on her side, looking for all the world like she'd just decided to curl up on the floor and go to sleep. "Prue," Lorne said in a low tone, putting a hand to her cheek. "Prue ... time to wake up now."

Prue's expression shifted into a frown and then her eyes snapped open, connecting instantly with his. "Evan?" she slowly sat up, Lorne shifting back to make room. "What happened?"

"I was hoping you could tell me," Lorne returned. "Are you hurt?"

"Ah ...," Prue paused to take stock, her frown deepening. "No, I feel fine."

Putting a bracing hand to her shoulder, Lorne smiled. "Good, then I can point out that despite telling me to be careful today you're the one who fell off the radar for a few hours."

"Hours?" Prue asked incredulously, watching from her sitting position on the floor as Evan moved to the three men and woke them up too.

"Sir?" Kennedy looked around in confusion before his eyes went back to Lorne's face. "I'm sorry Sir – I should have been paying more attention," he looked pained and worried and even more confused.

"We'll start dishing out the blame once we work out what happened Captain," Lorne said blandly. "What's the last thing you remember?"

"How's it going down there Major?" Sheppard's voice drew everyone's eyes upwards. Kennedy groaned, looking even more dismayed. Managing to get lost with the base 2IC's girlfriend in tow was bad enough but having to be found by the military commander added another level of negative notoriety.

"All present and awake Sir," Lorne called out.

"Okay, then sit tight," Sheppard called back. "I'll go arrange some gear to get you out of there."

"Yes Sir," Lorne turned back to Prue as soon as he'd signed off, unable to resist running his eyes over her again. She looked as fine as she'd said she was but he was still concerned. "So, tell me what you can remember," he requested, moving back to her side.

Prue glanced at him thoughtfully. "We were almost at the lab I wanted to check out," she said. "I don't think we would have even seen it, but the lights in this section weren't programmed only to come on when they detect motion, so seeing some stood out."

"There was a light source visible from the stair well Sir," Kennedy took over the explanation. "I thought it wise to check it out first."

"It was the room above us?" Evan queried.

"Yes Sir," Kennedy agreed.

"The weird thing is the light went off as soon as we got in there," Prue frowned. "I was reaching for my torch and then ...," she shrugged. "That's all I remember."

"Me too Sir," Kennedy confirmed. "One minute we were up there in the dark, the next you were shaking us awake."

"So you don't even know how you got down here?" Lorne's eyes narrowed. That didn't sound good. "What was so special about the lab that you wanted to check it out?" he asked Prue.

"I know it's been a while – initially I wanted to look around out here because the database mentioned a language research lab," Prue explained. "I didn't find it that day when we ...," she half smiled before glossing over the 'first kiss' event, "or when I came back with another team. I wrote it off as just another out of date error in the database until the other day when out of the blue I found another reference and realised I'd been searching the wrong level."

"Hence the mission," Lorne nodded – that part at least made sense. For the first time he thought to actually look around the room they were in. Focussing for a moment he thought 'Lights' with firm authority and was rewarded when they brightened enough to have everyone blinking and wincing before their pupils adjusted.

Lorne hadn't been down there for long, and didn't need as much recovery time. It was almost instant, the time from raising the lights and registering what details he could see, and as soon as he did he froze. "Holy f...," he muttered, walking towards the far wall.

"What is it?" Prue immediately noticed his reaction, moving to stand beside him. "Evan?"

"Ah ...," Lorne held up a hand, silently requesting for her to give him a few minutes. The room was large with high ceilings and stained glass windows, and Ancient inspired carvings in the walls. His eyes were drawn to the cavity at chest level ... with three empty slots for ZPMs in a triangle configuration.

It was the room he'd seen while sitting in the command chair.

The only differences were the lack of moonlight from windows that no longer opened to the outside – and of course the lack of actual ZPMs. What he'd seen must have been like a file copy from an earlier version, before the Ancients build another section onto the pier ... and taken the ZPMs wherever the hell they'd taken them. It didn't even matter that the shield over the cavity was still there – no point in working out how to access the panel from the wrong side when there was nothing inside to make it worthwhile.

"Evan?" Prue said again.

"What?" Lorne glanced down at Prue. "Oh. Sorry," he ran a hand through his hair, turning to see that Kennedy was checking the status of his men, paying them the barest attention as they waited for Colonel Sheppard to return with enough rope to get them out of there. "This is the room," he said in a low tone.

"The room?" Prue's brow knitted as she tried to put his comment into context. "The ZPM room?" she asked incredulously. "I thought that was off world somewhere."

"I thought it was," Evan shook his head. "Turns out I was wrong – this is definitely it, down to the ZPM slots – hard to mistake that."

"Then where are they?"

"Your guess is as good as mine," Evan returned. "They probably needed them for the fight with the Wraith – never got back here to replenish the supply."

"What does it do?" Prue nodded towards the cavity.

"I have no idea – and it doesn't really matter since it's missing the key ingredient from my dream. Maybe it was just wishful thinking – inspired by the chair malfunctioning while I was connected to it." Lorne put a hand under her elbow, drawing her away just as Colonel Sheppard reappeared above them.

"Still there Major?" John called down.

"Yes Sir," Lorne said blandly.

"Well, step clear," Sheppard advised, tossing a rope with a rig already attached.

"You're first," Evan told Prue, helping hook her into the 'chair' so whoever was upstairs could pull her up.

Prue complied, giving him a small smile before they started winching her up. It didn't take long to get Kennedy and his team up there as well, leaving Lorne 'til last. He stood in the centre of the room for a moment, hands on his hips as he considered the best approach. Deep down he'd been hoping those ZPMs were real – finding out that wasn't the case was a hell of a letdown. Shaking his head, Lorne grabbed the rope and let his CO pull him out of the disappointing room.

oOo

"How did you do that Major?" Sheppard asked curiously as soon as the debriefing was done. Kennedy's team and Prue had made a stop off in the infirmary beforehand and been given the all clear – no signs of injury but also no signs of what had rendered them all unconscious for so long.

"Do what Sir?" Lorne queried distractedly, gesturing with his head for Prue not to wait for him. She smiled, throwing him a quick wave before leaving him alone with John.

"Find the entrance to that room," Sheppard clarified. "There was no ATA gene recognition attached, otherwise it would have opened as soon as I walked in the room." It wasn't vanity – John's gene usually was the skeleton key to every room on Atlantis.

"I asked the city nicely Sir," Lorne returned, going for plain honestly because he knew John would think he was joking.

"You asked nicely?" John's brows rose in surprise.

"Yes Sir," Lorne met his CO's eyes consideringly. "Did Doctor Weir ever mention that Prue was helping me research whether practice in using the gene has an effect?"

"She mentioned something a while back," John confirmed. "You're saying you could find that door because you practiced?"

"Ah, kind of," Evan agreed.

John's eyes narrowed as he looked at his 2IC. "Just how much progress have you made with that Major?" he asked pointedly.

"It's hard to say Sir," Lorne answered honestly. "Enough to sometimes convince the city to let me do things."

John looked ready to ask more questions if his radio hadn't activated. He put a hand to his ear, listening intently. "I'll be right there Elizabeth," he said, closing off the channel. "We'll talk about this again later Major," he said firmly.

"Yes Sir," Lorne agreed, standing almost to attention as Sheppard gave him another intent look before turning and striding away.

"That could have gone better," Evan muttered with a grimace. Before he spoke to his commanding officer again he'd have to organise his thoughts a little better. Because something told him the time when he could keep himself in the background was running out.

oOo

Lorne expected Sheppard to follow things up with him as soon as his meeting with Doctor Weir was done ... instead the Colonel was drawn into a large scale project fuelled by Rodney McKay and Samantha Carter – an intergalactic gate bridge. The idea was inspired – a series of gates across the divide between galaxies all talking to each other as they sent a person's signal from Atlantis to the Midway station, with a second series then taking the journeyer all the way back to Earth.

Like many great ideas the investment time to make it happen in reality was high – they needed space gates to make it work and would have to find ones that were no longer being used. Lorne was briefed along with the other gate team leaders on what to look for as they headed out on numerous missions to assess likely candidates. No way could they take a gate if the people on the planet it was orbiting needed it. Not that many of them had flight capability.

A week and what felt like fifty off world missions later they'd harvested a few gates but nowhere near enough to satisfy McKay. Lorne needed to run a few things past Colonel Sheppard in preparation for the next arrival of the Daedalus in a couple of weeks but the other man had been so busy Evan was thinking he'd have to resort to actually requesting a meeting.

Deciding to try one more early morning attempt to catch his CO in the city, Evan left Prue sleeping in his bed just after 6am and walked to John's office.

The door was open and before he even got there the sounds of coughing emerged out into the corridor.

"You look like hell Sir," Evan said, assessing his CO with concern. John looked a little flushed and his eyes were glassy, not to mention that Lorne could hear his blocked efforts at breathing from the doorway.

"Feel it," John returned. Coughing a couple of times, he grimaced before focussing on Lorne. "Something I can do for you Major?"

"Just some paperwork you need to check through and sign ... before the Daedalus arrives," Evan explained. "It needs to be done, but right now I think the more pressing need is for you to head back to bed Sir."

"I wish I could," John rubbed his hands over his face. "McKay wants to check out another one of these planets for a space gate. He's got some damn schedule that apparently we're not meeting."

"And he's impatient for the time when his brilliance will be appreciated," Lorne added with a faint smirk.

"That sounds about right," John agreed hoarsely.

"Well then I'll leave you to get ready for that Sir," Lorne said. Giving his CO another concerned look he added "look after that cold Sir," before turning to leave.

"Of course," John agreed. Evan was mostly out the door before he called him back. "I haven't forgotten that chat," he called out.

"No Sir," Evan agreed blandly. "Neither have I."

"Okay – good. Carry on then," John croaked, gestured for Lorne to continue on his way.

Lorne nodded, frowning as he walked away. Maybe he should stop off at Doctor Weir's office ... just casually mention Sheppard's condition. If anyone could get the man to admit that he needed a sick day it was Elizabeth.

 

Chapter 36: Resistible at a distance

"How'd it go Sir?" Lorne met Colonel Sheppard half way up the stairs from the Jumper bay.

"The M.A.L.P. readings were accurate," John replied, his voice still rough with the cold he was suffering. "We found a village complete with a local snake oil salesman. Beckett's gone to see if he's selling anything of value."

"So back to the drawing board on space gates," Evan concluded. Casting his CO a concerned glance he continued. "So you can get a little rest then Sir, before McKay finds another prospect?"

"Hardly," Sheppard gave a short chuckle that turned into painful coughing. "He's already got Zelenka looking at the next possibility - M3R-428. We're heading out again this afternoon."

Lorne frowned but before he could offer an opinion on the merits of the Colonel running around infecting everyone with his cold John held up a hand. "Don't say it Major," he said croakily. "I'll take a break when we get back."

"Okay, good," Evan acknowledged, ignoring Sheppard's smirk. Heading back to his office he started out with catching up on the numerous emails he received from a range of Atlantis personnel every day. It usually took him a couple of hours to action everything and it was after lunch time before he got to the most recent messages. Some of them were requests, some reports on progress with various things he'd taken an interest in, including the work still going on at the site on M4R-322.

The research team was due back after a week spent throwing all they had at translating as many of the columns there as possible, bringing those they couldn't translate on site back for Prue's program to churn through. There would still be plenty of work to place each statement in the broader time line, helped somewhat by Prue's knowledge of the road the Ancient language had taken to get where it was when the Lantean's had abandoned the city.

Since his first trip back to the planet after his return from Earth, Lorne had taken a particular interest in what the columns were 'predicting'. He'd requested a weekly update be sent to him which basically ran through every translated message off the columns. Without a context most of them made little sense but Evan was still hopeful that one would jump out at him and explain away the very notion that he personally was responsible for the fate of the Ascended Ancients. He hadn't talked about it much but it was something that weighed on him, and not just because he thought it was founded on an error of mammoth proportions. What if it were true? What if the fate of all those who's ascended was on his shoulders? He really didn't think he was up to something with the kind of consequences he could think of if he got it wrong. Not to mention that it was a load no one should have to bear alone ...

When Lorne's email pinged mid afternoon and he saw the new message from Prue titled 'Your weekly rundown' he resettled, grinning in anticipation. She'd taken to offering him suggestions for what each translation might mean, usually humorous or at the very least entertaining. Opening the email he started reading.

'After the dawn of the eleventh millennia shall the road fork. One path ends when all are transformed in his image, the other through times vision returning the galaxy to balance.'

Evan thought about that for a few moments and decided it made very little sense, as usual. Scrolling down to Prue's suggested meaning, he kept reading.

"Okay, so that one makes even less sense than most of these," Prue had written. "If I had to guess – and you know I always do! – I'd say it has something to do with religious worship or gods ... 'in his image'. And of course times vision is about someone who can see the future! Don't laugh – it could happen!"

Evan shook his head, smiling faintly. Prue was right – these days they couldn't discount anything, no matter how ridiculous it sounded. Moving on to the next few statements he skimmed quickly, some of Prue's suggestions raising a chuckle.

And then abruptly everything turned very serious and he was sitting forward, eyes narrowed.

"When the need arises, here will the power be found. Beware, for then the battle has already begun."

"Lorne to Doctor Darnell," he radioed Prue, his voice brisk.

"Darnell here," Prue answered a little absently. "What can I do for you Major?"

"I need to see you in my office Doctor," Lorne requested seriously.

There was a moment's pause and then Prue replied. "On my way."

It only took her a couple of minutes to arrive, her expression shifting to concern when she walked in on Evan's invitation and he immediately closed the door behind her. "What's wrong?" she asked, dropping into the seat across from him.

"The translations you sent me," Evan began. Swivelling his laptop around so she could see the screen, he pointed to the words he'd highlighted. "Particularly this one. Was there anything with it to suggest where it sits inside the timeline?"

Prue read the statement quickly, her lips pursed. "No, not that was noted specifically," she replied. "I can look at the images they took though, see if that has anything?"

"Okay, do that," Lorne nodded, mind still running the angles.

"It sounds like a pretty innocuous statement compared to most of them," Prue suggested. "Why are you so interested in it?"

"Because my gut is telling me it's important," Evan explained. "I know I decided that dream I had in the command chair was just that – a dream – and that you agreed. But think about it Prue. I saw a room it turns out is located here in Atlantis, only in my dream it had three ZPM's powering it. But we don't have three ZPM's. In fact we barely have enough power with the one we have to run the shields or the cloak if we need to." He looked back at his laptop screen and spoke in a low tone. "Here will the power be found."

"You think three two two has ZPMs we haven't found yet?" Prue's brow rose sharply. "Don't they give off some kind of energy signal the Ancient scanners pick up?"

"They do," Evan agreed. "And the day you found the underground part of those ruins I did pick up something big enough to blur all the readings. If I didn't have 'an edge' to focus beyond the instruments I never would have found you."

"But we've not seen any evidence of that since that one time," Prue pointed out.

"I know, and the reason for that is a mystery," Lorne agreed. "But it could be explained by a malfunctioning shield as much as it could by us picking up something that wasn't really there."

"True," Prue nodded, looking thoughtful. Meeting Evan's eyes she seemed to be watching for something before speaking again. "When you take your team there I want to come too."

"What makes you think it'll be my team that goes?" Evan queried.

"Because I know you," Prue smiled. Getting up again she leaned over the desk, ruffling his hair fondly and chuckling when he tried to dodge her. "I'll pull the photos and load up the required module into the portable translator." The entire program was too big to carry around on a laptop, given all the references needed from the Ancient database, so Prue had modulised each of her sources. If she knew in advance which dialect she'd need, she could load only that module and take a portable version off world.

"You do that, smart ass," Lorne grinned. "I'll go talk to Doctor Weir. Colonel Sheppard is still off world but it's a routine mission and they should be back soon enough."

"So you'll let me know when to meet you in the Jumper Bay?" Prue insisted.

"I'll let you know," Evan agreed, shaking his head when she threw him a happy grin before hurrying from his office.

oOo

"Doctor Weir, have you got a few minutes?" Evan stood just inside her doorway, his expression hopeful.

"Of course Major," Elizabeth replied with a welcoming smile. "What can I do for you?"

"I'd like to take my team along with Doctor Darnell to M4R-322 as soon as possible Ma'am," Lorne led in with the conclusion.

"For what purpose Major?" Weir asked curiously, watching Lorne closely.

"The weekly summary sheets off the Ancient columns Ma'am," Lorne explained. He'd decided on the way up to Elizabeth's office that explaining all the steps that had led to his current need to go off world would take too long. Hell, he'd be lucky to get out of her office without a reprimand and an intensive investigation if he took it back to how all this had started.

"I just finished reading that," Weir frowned, tapping a few keys on her laptop to display her own version of Prue's email. "I didn't see anything of note Major."

"The one about needed power Ma'am," Evan pointed out. "The lab Captain Kennedy's team found with Prue a few weeks back was for something that required three ZPM's to power it. All the slots were empty of course and we have no idea what that lab does but that part doesn't actually matter. It's more corroborating that additional ZPM's were needed by the city around the time they were defending against Wraith attack."

"And you think they stored some of those on three two two, even though we've never been able to reproduce the initial scan results suggesting there was something below the surface," Weir concluded.

"Yes ma'am," Lorne said simply. "Look, I know it's a long shot but given our recent troubles with those hive ships any small mention of a possible ZPM is something we need to follow up on."

"I agree Major," Elizabeth smiled slightly. "What makes you think you can detect something the other teams have all failed to find?"

"Practice Ma'am," Lorne shrugged. "I haven't been back there in a while and maybe it's stupid but I was thinking a natural ATA gene along with all the work Prue and I have done to broaden my skills might make the difference."

"Very well," Weir decided quickly. "Ready your team to head out first thing tomorrow morning."

"Thank you Ma'am," Evan smiled.

"Be careful out there Evan," Elizabeth said quietly. "Neither that planet or those columns have been particularly kind to you."

"I know," Lorne agreed. "Prue insisted on coming along. I'm not sure if all of her enthusiasm was necessarily driven by intellectual curiosity."

"I'm sure that's true," Elizabeth smiled. "You're in good hands then."

"Yes Ma'am," Evan grinned.

oOo

Lorne returned to his office, letting Coughlin, Reed and Cheung know about the next days mission and filing the paperwork needed to log in into the system. He took a break for a session in the gym, checked in for an update on the last batch of recruits they'd received before the whole Wraith in the city incident, and then headed to Prue's lab.

"Well?" she asked as soon as she saw him.

"Tomorrow - first thing," he replied, amused at her excitement in being included. "You have been to three two two plenty of times in the past," he reminded her.

"Yes, but not with you," Prue said simply.

"Ah ... okay, sure, you have me there," Evan returned, smiling. Glancing at her workspace he raised a brow. "You ready for dinner?"

"Can we take a walk first?" Prue asked hopefully.

"Sure, of course," Evan held out his hand, taking the one she offered and pulling her close. They walked slowly, talking about inconsequential things as the sky darkened and night fell. Eventually food beckoned and they changed direction, walking to the Mess Hall together. Lorne stopped abruptly in the doorway when he saw what was going on inside.

"Who the hell is that?" he commented to Prue, eyes narrowed as he watched a stranger taking centre stage amongst what looked like the entire staff of Atlantis. The man was telling some kind of story, both riveting and amusing if the reactions of those around him were any indicator.

"You don't know him?" Prue asked curiously.

"No," Evan returned. "Which is odd because I should have been informed of any visitors to the city."

They looked back to the crowd again - there was something disturbing about the way everyone hung off the strangers words - including Teyla, Ronon who was laughing like Evan had never seen before, and Doctor Weir. "This is ... weird," he muttered, appetite abruptly dropping away. "Let's go and find Colonel Sheppard."

Prue nodded, falling into step beside Lorne as they walked back the way they'd come. They stumbled across John and Rodney half way down the hallway, the two still arguing about the planet they'd just come back from.

"Sir," Lorne greeted the Colonel purposefully.

"Major, problems?" John queried, still croaking more than speaking, picking up on Evan's tone immediately.

"That depends Sir," Lorne replied. "Are you aware that we have quite the captivating visitor in the city?"

"Oh, right, Lucius Luvin," Sheppard coughed, shaking his head. "Sorry Lorne - I should have told you about him. Carson brought him back just before McKay and I left - I've got Teyla and Ronon watching him."

"You might want to check up on that Sir," Lorne advised, glancing at Prue before continuing. "Something seemed a little off," he suggested, getting a nod of agreement from Prue.

"Okay, we'll check it out," John agreed. "Leave it with me Major."

"Thank you Sir," Lorne motioned for Prue to start walking again, glancing back once to see John and Rodney almost at the Mess Hall door.

"You don't want to go back there, help Colonel Sheppard?" Prue asked.

"The Colonel knows the guy," Evan pointed out. "Sounded like he wanted to handle it himself. We'll pick up something from the kitchen later, okay?"

"Okay," Prue agreed. "I still need to prepare a few things for the mission anyway."

"I'll help," Lorne offered.

oOo

Early the next morning Lorne and Prue met the rest of the team in the locker room where they usually geared up for off world missions. Talking was minimal - despite everyone having had an early night. Evan did query whether any of his team had met Lucius the previous night but got a negative from all of them.

He put the previous night's strangeness out of his mind, sure that Colonel Sheppard would have it all under control. The control room was still on minimal staff - not unusual for such an early departure. Lorne requested the on duty technician dial M4R-322, getting an overly cheerful acknowledgement before the gate began spinning.

It felt nicely familiar to step through the gate onto M4R-322. As Lorne took stock of the conditions – nice warm day, slight breeze, no one hanging around near the gate – he decided the planet was up there on his list of favourites. For the people like Teneo and Kara, for the key moments between him and Prue, the positives outweighing that one moment where things could have been horribly different.

"Sir?" Coughlin moved up to stand beside his CO, his expression quizzical.

"Just smelling the flowers Sergeant," Evan said casually.

"Ah ... of course Sir," Nate returned, clearly holding in his amusement. "I don't want to hurry you Sir but ... what's the plan?"

"I'm done," Lorne announced, turning to see Prue step through the gate last, Reed beside her. When she saw him looking at her she smiled, raising a brow in query.

"Airman, take the lead," he ordered. "Head towards where we initially detected that energy signature."

"Yes Sir," Dan grinned, obviously keen to be in front. Pulling out his ancient scanner, Reed got his bearings and then moved forward confidently. Airman Cheung dropped into step beside his team mate, the two youngest members of Lorne's team firmly focussed on their mission.

Coughlin glanced at Lorne, nodding at the unspoken order for him to bring up their rear, leaving Evan and Prue to walk together in the middle.

"So your plan is just to stumble over these ZPMs?" Prue queried, teasing just a little.

"Unless you have a different idea, yeah," Evan agreed with a shrug. "It's not completely random though – Dan and I both agreed on what we picked up previously. I can't tell you why that signal disappeared, just that it was there."

"I believe you," Prue said simply.

"Well thank you Ma'am," Lorne grinned. "The faith is very nice ... and hopefully the results will measure up."

"Are we stopping to see Teneo?" Prue asked.

"Not this time," Evan looked upwards, noting the position of the sun as they entered the forest. "It's still early but I want to give us as much daylight as possible."

Prue nodded, not looking overly disappointed. Kara had visited Atlantis several times to learn about the systems and Atlantis teams had also spent plenty of time with Teneo and Kara as hosts. Although there wasn't much in the way of resources to offer, the people had become firm allies for the Lanteans.

The walk through the forest was uneventful if long. They passed the first set of ruins and moved further into the depths of the forest until they emerged into a small clearing. Lorne looked at his own ancient scanner, eyes narrowed.

"Hold up," he called out to Reed, glancing around. The rest of the team stopped, moving back to stand nearby. Evan considered his options as he looked at the blank screen. There was nothing there, just as there'd been nothing all the other times he and anyone else with an Ancient scanner had tried to rediscover that elusive energy signature. And yet Lorne was sure something was there to be found. Eyes on the square opening – the broken column moved safely aside and a shelter constructed over the top of it – he decided to follow his instincts. "We go down to the chamber below."

"Other teams haven't found anything down there, Sir," Coughlin pointed out.

"But we're not other teams, are we Nate?" Lorne slapped a hand to his second's shoulder fondly before lifting his pack off his back and dropping it to the ground. Luckily they didn't have to rig their own means of getting down to the underground sectors of the ruins – the rope ladder and supports set up for easy access by a prior team.

Glancing over at Prue, Evan raised a brow. "Okay?"

"I'm happy to look around again," Prue said easily, a small smile gracing her features. "It wouldn't be the first time you saw something everyone else missed."

"I'll take that as a compliment," Evan returned with a grin.

Moving to the entrance he squatted, looking down into the darkness. He hadn't personally been down there since his rescue of Prue and Kara and a part of him wasn't looking forward to revisiting that scene. But if they found something even half as valuable as a single ZPM it would be worth the personal discomfort. Glancing at Cheung and Reed he made a quick decision – despite the lack of any trouble on the planet during any visits from Atlantis personnel he had to leave someone on the surface and Dan's gene could be useful.

"Jimmy – stand guard while we're down there," he ordered. The young man nodded, his expression making it clear he didn't mind the duty he'd been assigned.

Lorne stood, pulling a torch from one of the pockets on his vest and switching it on. "I'll go first. Reed, help Prue and then follow her down. Coughlin, you'll be last."

Everyone nodded, readying their own gear in preparation for the climb down.

The ladder was sturdy and secure and easy to traverse – a few minutes later Evan was on the floor below, shining his torch around as he waited for Prue and his men to join him.

He could see signs of prior visits – the rubble from the column collapse had been cleared away, along with years of accumulated dust and grime. There was a generator attached to some lights – moving quickly to get it started he had the lights slowly powering up by the time Prue and Reed were on the ground.

"So, what now?" Prue asked, standing beside Lorne, her eyes tracking around the room.

"Being the Ancients, there has to be another way in or out of here," Evan replied. Touching a hand to hers he moved away, walking to the nearest wall. Putting a hand to the surface he felt for an opening, moving slowly and carefully as he began a circuit. Prue decided to join him, Nate and Dan taking the opposite direction.

Of course it wasn't as easy as that – when they met on the other side of the room it was empty handed. There was no secret opening, at least not one that could be found by touch alone.

"Do these symbols mean anything?" Lorne asked Prue, pointing to the markings carved into the floor in the middle of the room.

"Of course," Prue said briskly.

"Are you going to tell me what they say?" Evan asked after she remained silent, ignoring the amused look that crossed Nate's face.

"Well, since you asked me so nicely," Prue teased. Standing at the head of the circular group of symbols she waited for Lorne to join her before beginning. "The centre is the light and the reflection of truth."

Evan frowned, thinking over the words.

"Doesn't sound all that helpful to me, Sir," Reed commented.

"We need to put ourselves into the shoes of an Ancient," Lorne instructed thoughtfully. "Assuming they didn't deliberately set out to be cryptic, the obvious meaning is ...," he trailed off, looking directly above him. "Anybody got a mirror?" he asked.

Prue rummaged in her pack, pulling out a small circular mirror and handing it to Evan wordlessly.

"Thanks," Lorne murmured. Kneeling, he placed the mirror on the floor and then stepped back. "Cheung," he radioed their teammate on the surface.

"Sir?"

"Due east of the underground entrance is another, smaller opening, like a port hole," Evan instructed. "It's covered over so we need you to clear whatever's blocking the light."

"Yes Sir," Cheung acknowledged.

"Radio me when you've found it," Lorne ordered before cutting the connection.

"There's not a lot of light getting through the trees up there Sir," Nate pointed out.

"Yeah, I know," Lorne agreed. "But there are a few gaps, not big enough for a Jumper but still enough to let in a little sunlight. It's a clear day so if this is going to work, today is as good a day as any to try it out."

"You think the light will be reflected by the mirror and show us the way out?" Prue asked.

"Something like that," Evan agreed with a shrug. He glanced at her with a faint smirk. "It's a little too Indiana Jones in some respects but the Ancient Egyptians did use mirrors and direct sunlight to illuminate their temples. Since we now know some of that culture came from early contact with the Ancients it's not that farfetched to see something similar here."

"No, it's not," Prue took his hand and squeezed in approvingly.

"Sir," Cheung's voice from above interrupted them.

"You found it?" Lorne asked.

"I think so Sir," Jimmy replied. "Kind of," he added, quickly following on with an explanation. "There's one of those marker things about where you said to look Sir. Only trouble is it's buried pretty deep. It'll take me a while to dig it out Sir."

"Acknowledged," Lorne returned. "I'll send Coughlin and Reed up to help you – that should speed things up."

"Thank you Sir," Cheung replied.

"You're going to wait down here Sir?" Nate asked, his concern evident.

"No point in all of us climbing back up that ladder Sergeant," Lorne dismissed casually. Meeting his second's eyes he said more seriously "we won't do anything until you get back down here."

"Good," Nate smiled, motioning for Reed to precede him up the ladder.

As soon as the two men had disappeared over the top of the opening Evan turned back to Prue, taking her hands and drawing her back to the centre of the room where he'd placed the mirror on the floor. As one they looked up at the ceiling and then back to each other.

"This probably won't work," Lorne commented. "If the light hits the mirror head on it'll just get reflected straight back up."

"Maybe it won't be head on," Prue suggested. She shifted to look around the room, trying to imagine where a beam of light would be most effective illumination. "There are a lot of shadows here," she commented uneasily, shifting closer.

"What, you've been here multiple times but only now are you worried this place is hiding something sinister?" Evan teased, putting his hands to her shoulders and squeezing bracingly. "Don't worry Honey – I'll protect you."

"Why is it you only call me that when you're being sarcastic or condescending?" Prue complained, pulling away from him with a disgruntled pout good enough that Evan wasn't sure if she was teasing or not.

"You want me to call you Honey?" Evan asked, surprised.

"No!" Prue rolled her eyes, exasperated. "Especially not when you're teasing me!"

"Oh ... right," Lorne grabbed her hands again, pulling her closer. "What about sweetheart?"

She grimaced.

"Darling?" Evan's eyes twinkled in the spotlights.

Prue screwed up her nose, shaking her head slightly.

"So ... honey, sweetheart and darling are all out," Evan summarised. "Any endearments you do like?"

Prue smoothed her hands over his chest, appearing to think about it. The look she gave him from under her lashes was both sexy and shy. "I like the way you say my name," she admitted in a low tone.

"What ... Prue?" Lorne blinked, surprised by her answer.

"Yes – just like that," Prue smiled.

"Prue," Evan repeated it because he could, his eyes intent on hers. They were silent for a moment, just looking at each other. "If I wasn't on duty I'd be kissing you right now," he admitted.

"If I wasn't on duty I'd be letting you," Prue returned cheekily.

"Sir," Coughlin's voice provided a timely interruption. "We're almost through."

"Very good," Lorne replied. Again he and Prue looked up, this time able to just make out the small circular window in the ceiling that was slowly getting lighter and lighter as the guys up on the surface removed the dirt on top of it.

"We should step back," Prue said suddenly, using the hold she still had on Evan's hands to pull him back with her.

"All clear Sir," Coughlin reported at the same time as full sunlight shone through the window.

The beam of light seemed to travel down an invisible wire towards the mirror on the floor. Lorne had been right – when it hit the mirror it travelled straight back up the same path until somewhere just past halfway it stopped.

"Is that ...?" Lorne trailed off, eyes narrowed on what started out as a small circle of light that steadily grew bigger until with a flash it burst out in four directions, each new beam hitting the centre of each of the walls.

There was an ominous grating sound from beneath them and Evan had just enough time to push Prue clear before the middle circle of floor dropped away, taking him with it.

The fall was long and the landing hard ... the all encompassing pain of his broken body and Prue screaming his name a brief flash on his awareness before he blacked out.

 

Chapter 37: You can't go home

"Evan? Please ... oh God," Prue's voice shook as much as the hands she placed gingerly over his chest. Lorne was shifting in and out of consciousness, just barely with it enough to know that somehow she was beside him.

He wanted to answer her ... he tried to but the effort only sent him back to the blackness.

oOo

"Evan ... please come back to me," her voice was still shaking, thick now with tears. She sniffed, and one of those tears landed on his cheek.

"Don't ... cry," he whispered through lips red with his own blood. He wanted to add that he'd be okay but he knew this time that wasn't going to be the case. Everything was pain ... the parts of himself he could feel anyway. That didn't include any of his extremities - he knew enough to understand that wasn't a good sign. He wanted to touch her but trying to move ramped up the pain and he lost touch again.

oOo

"Help me please!" Prue was standing beside him now, her voice a hoarse plea. "Somebody help me!"

Evan struggled to open his eyes ... the edges of his vision were fuzzy but he saw Prue clearly, saw the spiralling light that appeared above them and slowly drifted down.

Prue's reaction wasn't surprise or fear. Instead she addressed the light with familiarity. "Fee ... it's really you. Oh God ... I remember now! I remember everything!" Prue stepped closer to the light. "You know it isn't meant to be this way. You can help him. Please."

The light brightened and then coalesced until it was replaced by another woman, dark haired, slender, and of a similar height to Prue. "Who can say what is meant and what is not?" she returned emotionlessly.

"I can!" Prue shot back desperately. "We both know what the others believe. Without him we will all perish or be taken over by those without purpose or scruples. They will destroy everything. I would heal him myself but you know I no longer have the power."

"Because you gave it up to be with him," the words weren't harsh or judgemental, but merely factual.

"I gave up everything to help him – to help his people so that they would be ready to help us!" Prue exclaimed.

Evan lay on the floor, the physical pain receding into numbness. He didn't want to believe what his eyes and ears were telling him – that Prue had summoned an ascended being, one she knew from personal experience. Her best friend – the one she'd told him she'd lost just before coming to Atlantis. There had to be an explanation he could live with ... Evan tried to cling to that but the pain in his heart sprang into life to mock his trust. "Prue?" he whispered her name despairingly.

"Evan," Prue dropped to her knees at his side, one hand smoothing his hair back, her eyes swimming with tears. "You're going to be fine, okay. I'm going to fix this," she promised him determinedly. Looking back over her shoulder to where her friend stood watching, she continued. "We're going to fix this."

Fee looked at them both silently before moving closer. "You are sure?" she asked Prue. "He will not forgive you Devia."

"I don't care!" Prue got up again, grabbing her friend's hands and clinging tightly. "He must live ... I can't continue in this task if you let him die Fee. For what we once were to each other ... for Occulus. You must do this now ... before it is too late." She took a shuddering breath, stepping back and sitting beside Evan again. Taking his hand she held it to her face, her eyes on his. "He doesn't have much time Fee. I will take full responsibility," she said with quiet intent.

"Very well," Fee finally agreed. She moved to Evan's other side, kneeling down and putting her hands on his chest. "Be ready Evan Lorne," she warned. The light around her brightened, the warmth centred on where she was touching him. He knew the Ancient's had healing powers – he'd read the report from Colonel Sheppard's time at the sanctuary – but nowhere did it say how much it hurt to be healed.

The pain was excruciating – at least as bad as the injuries themselves and without the welcome numbness. He couldn't help but cry out, his body writhing on the floor.

"Hang on Evan," Prue was at his shoulders now, leaning over him so that his vision was full of her.

Fee continued her invasion – every molecule of his being was touched by her power as she repaired damaged organs and knitted back together every one of his broken bones. The heat was intense – it came off him in waves that raised beads of sweat all over him. His heart galloped unevenly, every breath he took insufficient to stop the feeling of suffocation that had panic swirling through his mind. His insides crawled with a host of unpleasant sensations. He'd never wanted to get away from himself more than he did right then but he couldn't. Reality ... time itself seemed to lose its meaning.

And then abruptly it stopped and he could breathe easy again.

"It is done," Fee announced.

"Thank you," Prue got up, moving to stand before her friend. "I ... I don't have the words," she whispered brokenly.

"It is because of you that I am here Devia," Fee said simply. "You asked me to watch over you ... to watch over him. And so I have. I wish I could help you face so easily what is still to come."

"As do I," Prue murmured.

Throwing herself forward, she hugged her friend close. Fee looked uncomfortable, her body stiff, but abruptly she relaxed, returning the embrace. "I miss you still," Fee said.

"Me too," Prue returned. "That was one thing I never forgot."

Stepping back, Fee cast Evan an intent gaze. "This day's events are not as they appear Evan Lorne. If you fail to see this ... if you hurt Devia ... I will return and take back the gift I have given you."

"Fee!" Prue protested.

"It is done," Fee spoke to the heavens. Raising her arms side, she called back the light. It brightened until they had to look away. When they could look back she was gone, the chamber returned to its former dimness.

Evan sat up, hardly able to believe the truth. The pain was gone. His injuries were gone. It was as though he'd never fallen to his almost death less than an hour before.

Getting to his feet he turned to face Prue. "What the hell was that?" he demanded. "And who the hell is Devia?"

"She is me," Prue admitted tearfully, "or at least, she was. I'm so sorry Evan."

"You're sorry?" he asked incredulously, anger like he'd never known burning inside. "Everything about you is a lie Prue and all you can say is you're sorry?"

"There are reasons ... reasons bigger than me," she swallowed visibly, wrapping her arms around her middle.

"I should have pushed you!" Lorne said, keeping his anger in check with difficultly. "I knew there was something off but I ignored it because I ...," he bit back the words. Because he loved her ... that's why he'd ignored the warning signs, although God knows he'd never have pegged her secret for being as huge as it had turned out to be. "You're one of them?" he asked harshly. "You're an ascended Ancient?"

"Not exactly – I did ascend but I was never one of those you call Ancients. I wanted to tell you everything but it was forbidden," Prue admitted. "They would have removed me before letting me reveal myself. And then they would have sent someone else – someone who wouldn't have cared about you like I did."

"Right, sure, of course," Lorne scoffed with painful sarcasm, "because everyone shows who much they care by lying through their teeth every second of the day!"

"It wasn't a lie!" Prue protested forcefully. Rushing forward she grabbed his forearms, jerking him towards her desperately. "Only the origins of my existence were false Evan. Please, you have to believe me!"

His anger dropped away abruptly, overwhelmed by the sadness and regret that arrived to replace it. "I'm not sure I can believe anything ever again," Evan said quietly, turning away. For the first time in his life Lorne had no idea what to do next ... what to do with her. How in the hell was he supposed to handle this? Could he turn her in for not being what they'd all assumed she was? And how was that even possible anyway? She had a history – she knew things about Earth like she really had grown up there. The whole thing was confusing as hell and he desperately wanted a few minutes of mental silence so he could get his bearings back.

The room was dimly lit from the lights above but Lorne's eyes had adjusted enough that he could see where it was he'd fallen. In the drama of almost dying and then being healed he hadn't really paid any attention to his surroundings. Needing the distraction he glanced around with little real interest – until his eyes landed on the far wall and that pretence fell away.

"Evan, please," Prue began again, stopping when he held up his hand for quiet.

"Not now," he said tersely, pulling out his torch and shining it ahead of him as he walked quickly forward. His eyes translated what he was seeing but his brain struggled to comprehend. "ZPMs," he murmured, his torchlight illuminating three cylindrical objects slotted into place in a triangle. "We actually found them!" He wasn't sure why but he knew instinctively that they were fully charged, even though they weren't currently active.

"As you were meant to," another voice in the chamber had Prue and Evan both spinning around.

"Morgan?" Lorne's voice was incredulous as he took in an image he'd only previously seen in the hologram room back on Atlantis. He turned to glare at Prue, the anger back in full force. "Somebody better tell me what the hell is going on here!"

"It is time Evan Lorne," Morgan ignored his demands.

"Time for what?" Evan shouted, pacing away, a hand running through his hair in agitation. Turning back he held up a hand. "No, you know what? Don't even bother answering that because I am done here." Striding past Prue and Morgan he reached for the rope ladder Prue must have appropriated from the room above them to get down to him so quickly.

"You cannot be done," Morgan's voice resonated off the walls, stopping him in his tracks.

"I can," he promised grimly. "And I'm done with the lies and the manipulation and the cryptic crap too. So if you want me to listen then you'll start telling me the unvarnished truth."

"Very well," Morgan agreed. "But you must agree to do as we ask ... the clock has already begun ticking."

"I'm not agreeing to anything before I get that explanation," Lorne insisted stubbornly. He was aware that Prue stood behind him but he had to shut her out – her surprise at seeing Morgan had seemed genuine but then, everything else about her had too, and look how wrong that had turned out to be.

"What you know of those who Ascended is not the entirety of our existence," Morgan began without further preamble. "We are as one in our purpose, in the control we place on our collective, but this is not by choice. During the dawn of this phase in our existence many of our kind struggled to let go of the concerns of our prior selves. We were weak ... the power we had to be in all places at all times was too much and many of us chose to use it to hover over the affairs of the lower planes, over those we had known. Changes were made ... history was altered all in the name of good intentions ... until our actions threatened the very fabric of creation. Unity was needed and so we agreed to abide by rules that would separate us from this plane. Together we corrected our wrongs and together we ensured that such events could never happen again."

"Thanks for the history lesson but I don't see what it has to do with us right now," Lorne commented impatiently.

"True unity is difficult to create," Morgan revealed. "An individual straying from the path is quickly detected and punishment delivered swiftly, but if more than one were to stray such swift action would not be as easy. A group of our kind will band together to create their own unity. They will be too strong for us to control. They will not be disciplined. And they will bring about the end of our kind, followed swiftly by the use of your kind as tools for their own amusement. The fabric will be irrevocably damaged until there is nothing left."

"You said will?" Lorne frowned. "Are you suggesting this new group doesn't exist yet?"

"Precisely," Morgan confirmed. "We are all places in all times. Our end has been seen ... experienced ... time and time again. We have attempted through our own efforts to avoid this fate but all of our paths lead to the same conclusion. As soon as we give up our rules to save ourselves our very existence spirals out of control and into chaos. It is inevitable."

"Wait a minute!" Evan shook his head, a harsh chuckle escaping him. "You think I can do what the collective power of who knows how many ascended beings can't? That's insane!"

"You have what is needed Evan Lorne," Morgan said serenely. "And you have come by it through your own efforts."

"Right, mine and the mole you planted in our ranks," Lorne shot back. "But I guess it's not cheating since you made Prue human to get the job done."

"Devia chose to return to human form," Morgan explained. "We took from her every advantage gained from being formerly ascended, leaving only what she was before her death and what she strived through honest effort to acquire after that. She is as much one of your kind as anyone else. Our only subterfuge was in taking from you all that she needed to be convincing in her role as one from your own planet."

"Look, I don't really care about any of that," Evan denied, even though a part of him wanted nothing more than to have every action and every mystery that was Prue explained to him in minute detail. But it didn't matter – because she wasn't even Prue. She was Devia – a stranger. His Prue didn't exist, she never had. That realisation rose sharply into focus, bringing with it a wave of grief that threatened to crush him. "Not the time," he thought harshly, reigning it all in. "Just tell me what it is you expect me to do."

"It began as soon as you found the alternative shield," Morgan revealed. "They form as we speak and they will come to destroy Atlantis."

"And I assume this alternative shield is the decide that needs three ZPM's to power it," Lorne shook his head. "How can that be a threat to them? They're ascended."

"Yes, but as a unity they are still weak," Morgan explained. "They can be contained. The shield was originally designed by your ancestors as a way to store energy sourced from beyond this plane of existence. They were unable to complete their research before the Wraith threat necessitated all resources be directed towards solving it. It is our belief that the shield can be used to stop the new unity before it is too strong. But only if operated by one with supreme control over the Ancient city. The new unity are aware of the threat the shield poses to them – as soon as you discovered it their course was set. They do not believe a mere human will be strong enough to stop them but we know differently."

"Yeah, like I didn't see that one coming," Lorne muttered, looking down at the ground, his mind racing. He wasn't sure how much of Morgan's story to believe. Clearly his judgement was flawed – the sooner he could get back to Atlantis and offload the whole thing on Doctor Weir and Colonel Sheppard the better.

"You must hurry Evan," Morgan intoned. "Already they approach."

"I'll take your story back to Atlantis," Lorne declared, "along with the ZPM's. But that's it – I'm not promising anything. It won't be my decision anyway."

"These events are unavoidable," Morgan insisted. "Go back to Atlantis Evan Lorne ... and be ready for what comes."

With a flash she was gone, leaving a grim silence behind her.

 

Chapter 38: Home isn't what it used to be

"Evan," Prue's voice broke the silence, her plea one Lorne just couldn't answer.

"Not now," he ordered, refusing to look at her. "We need to get back to Atlantis."

The atmosphere was thick with unspoken words as they quickly shifted into action, carefully removing the three ZPM's and placing them in Evan's pack. A silent climb back up the rope ladder and they were one level away from being back on the surface.

"Lorne to Coughlin," Evan radioed as soon as they were under the opening.

"Sir!" Nate's voice was heavy with relief. "I've been radioing you at five minute intervals for the past hour. This is gonna sound crazy but no matter how much we tried to get through the opening up here, we couldn't. You're okay?"

Lorne wondered for a second who was responsible for keeping his team away - Fidesia or Morgan - but then decided it didn't really matter. They'd gotten what they'd wanted from him here, by whatever means necessary. "Long story Sergeant but yes, I'm fine," he replied to Coughlin. "Drop a rope down here. We need to get back to the gate asap."

"Understood," Coughlin acknowledged.

Lorne gestured for Prue to go first, waiting until his team had pulled her up to safety before climbing up the rope himself.

When he got to the top and straightened, all three of his men let out audible gasps. "Is all that yours?" Nate asked numbly, gesturing to Evan's uniform.

Lorne glanced down at himself. Damn, that was a lot of blood, the sight reinforcing just how close he'd come to the end. "Ah – yeah," he met Nate's eyes and shrugged. "Like I said, long story, and one we don't have time for right now. We need to get these back to Atlantis," he opened his pack, showing them the ZPM's.

"Holy Moses," Reed exclaimed, wide eyed. "Doctor McKay is gonna have a fit!"

"Probably," Lorne agreed humourlessly. Ordinarily he'd have smiled over the image of Rodney McKay's reaction to getting three fully charged ZPMs but he just didn't have it in him. "Let's go," he ordered, moving forward to take point.

Coughlin watched his CO go, turning a frowning look back to Prue. "Is he ...?"

"He's fine," Prue's lips trembled and her eyes filled with tears.

"Are you okay?" Nate asked, motioning for Reed and Cheung to follow their CO while he and Prue brought up the rear.

"Not really," Prue replied. "I did something Nate ... something he won't forgive me for."

"The Boss loves you," Nate insisted. "You can forgive a lot for someone you love."

"Not this time," Prue insisted sadly. Putting a hand to Coughlin's forearm she tried to smile. "But thank you for the effort," she said softly.

Nate frowned as he watched her walking numbly beside him, turning his gaze to where Lorne strode along ahead of them, his posture stiff and imposing. He wanted to know what had happened down in that chamber but at the same time he was beginning to think he'd be better off keeping his ignorance.

oOo

Back at the gate three and a half hours later, Lorne took a few moments to consider the next steps. He had no idea how he was going to approach this but one thing he did know was that he couldn't step back through the gate covered in his own dried blood. Setting down his pack carefully, he rummaged around the ZPM's until his fingers brushed the spare t-shirt he always carried. Pulling it clear he stood, ripping his vest off, followed quickly by his jacket. There was nothing he could do about his pants – thankfully the dark colour hid some of the impact of how much blood he'd lost. Impervious to the rest of his team he drew off the ruined t-shirt and replaced it with the clean one. The vest was wearable but the rest of his stuff was beyond repair. Rolling them up in a tight bundle he re-stowed them in his pack before straightening again.

"Dial the gate," he ordered Reed.

"Yes Sir," Dan shot a worried look towards Nate before stepping forward.

"Do you want to talk about this before we head back," Nate asked Lorne in an undertone.

"No time," Lorne shook his head. He let himself look at Nate, saw the concern plain as day, felt the grief and the anger bashing against the barriers he'd raised. "I ..," he couldn't speak so instead he clasped Nate's shoulder and then stepped away, shaking his head.

Once the connection was established Lorne sent through their IDC. "Atlantis base, this is Lorne. We're heading back."

"Understood," Chuck replied briskly.

"You might want to have Doctor McKay meet us at the gate," Lorne added. "Colonel Sheppard and Doctor Weir too."

There was a pause and then John's voice came over the radio. "Everything okay?" he asked casually, sounding more like his normal self than he had when Evan had last spoken to him.

"Yes Sir," Lorne replied. "I wouldn't want to spoil the surprise though – we'll see you in a few minutes Sir."

"Right," Sheppard's tone was puzzled. "Shields are down."

Lorne waved a hand for the others to go first, wanting to be the last to step back onto the city. As soon as he cleared the wormhole, as he'd expected the static tones of the city rose sharply to greet him. Inside his mind Evan felt like he wasn't the same man who'd left the city early that day. Prue's true origins and Morgan's appearance so soon after had damaged him – if the city was capable of picking up a vibe from him Lorne was pretty sure the ones he was sending off right then would be a black flag. "Stop," he commanded the instance the city registered his mood. It was enough – by the time he'd taken a few steps to be at the head of his team he had himself under control again.

"Sir," he greeted Sheppard with his usual reserve.

"Major," John's brow rose as he took in his second's manner and Evan almost winced. Okay, so maybe that facade needed a little work.

"Enough with the greetings," McKay pushed forward impatiently. "This better be good Lorne. I left a critical experiment running in the lab to come down here for your 'surprise', although I hardly think my definition of surprise will be as easy to match as yours apparently is."

"Here," Lorne handed McKay his pack. "I think this will qualify, even by your standards."

"Major," Doctor Weir finished her descent of the main stairs, her expression quizzical.

"Ah," Lorne began.

"You found them," for once Rodney McKay was incapable of running his mouth off at double the speed of everyone else. In fact, he looked as close to speechless as anyone in the room had ever seen him.

"We did," Lorne agreed. "Ma'am," he turned to Elizabeth. "Perhaps we should ...," he gestured up the stairs.

"Yes, let's debrief in the conference room," Weir agreed.

Sheppard and McKay were joined by Teyla and Ronon, the four following Doctor Weir, Evan's team and Prue. Once everyone was seated, Lorne looked around the table, still not sure where to begin. Lucky for him Rodney quickly found his voice.

"They were there the whole time?" Rodney queried. "Not activated I presume otherwise we'd have detected them on at least one of the missions to that planet. No one is incompetent enough to miss three ZPMs more than once."

"Three ZPM's," Elizabeth exclaimed, her eyes alight with excitement at the news.

"Yes Ma'am," Lorne agreed. "We found them in a chamber a level down from the underground ruins."

"You just stumbled across them?" Sheppard queried, watching Lorne interestedly. "You seem to be more than a little lucky like that Major."

"We didn't stumble over them," Evan took a deep breath and then just blurted it out. "It was more like we fell on top of them Sir – well, I did anyway."

"You fell on top of them?" John frowned. "Maybe you should start at the beginning Lorne."

"Sure, okay," Lorne kept his eyes away from his team mates as he succinctly explained. "Since the underground ruins was around were Reed and I first picked up that energy reading we decided to start searching there Sir," he said. "We didn't find anything initially but it makes sense there'd be an alternative entrance or exit."

"There usually is," Sheppard agreed with a faint smirk.

"Yes Sir," Lorne agreed. "Doctor Darnell translated some text on the floor that suggested we'd find that exit with a mirror, if we could get some natural sunlight into the room to shine on it, so I sent Coughlin and Reed back up to the surface to dig for a window. Pretty much as soon as the light struck the mirror the floor was falling away. Doctor Darnell had just enough time to get clear but I ah ...," he stopped, looking at Prue for the first time since Morgan had disappeared.

"Major Lorne fell through the floor," Prue took up the story, her voice low and hoarse. "By the time I got back to the opening he was unresponsive. I took the ladder we'd used to descend into the chamber and used it to get to the Major. It was ...," she looked at Evan quickly before meeting Elizabeth's eyes. "He was badly injured ... unconscious. I ... there was little I could do."

"Hang on," Rodney held up a hand in protest. "If Lorne was that badly injured, how is it he's sitting here now, clearly unaffected?"

Prue exchanged a tortured glance with Evan, swallowing hard, her eyes brimming with unshed tears.

"She called in one of her ascended friends to heal me," Lorne said bluntly. He was still looking at Prue so he saw her flinch, her face pale. He felt guilty for that for a moment but reminded himself that she'd brought it on herself by lying to him for so long.

"What?" Sheppard blinked, looking at Lorne like he thought his 2IC had suddenly gone crazy.

"I know how it sounds Sir," Lorne admitted, "but I wouldn't be sitting here now if it wasn't true. Admittedly I was pretty out of it for a while there but I saw and heard enough to understand what happened."

"Perhaps Doctor Darnell should tell us in her own words what happened next," Elizabeth suggested. "Doctor?"

"I didn't intentionally call in anyone," Prue didn't look at any of them as she spoke, her eyes locked on the hands she had clenched on the table top. "I was desperate to help Evan and ... she'd been watching over him, you see, because I asked her to."

"Who?" Elizabeth asked gently.

"Fidesia," Prue replied. "Fee. We were friends so long ago, on Occulus, before ...," she stopped abruptly.

"Before the Wraith came," Lorne finished.

"Yes," Prue looked up at him and then away again. Tracing a finger over the table she smiled sadly. "Fee and I were the last to leave ... we broke the hold the Wraith had on the gate and sent all the people we could through to safety. I guess we cut it too close ... we would have been dead ... we did die but somehow we were able to ascend, both of us. We became a part of that existence willingly – there was nothing for us here anymore."

"How was it you went from that to being here on Atlantis?" Elizabeth asked, everyone keeping silent, fascinated by the story.

Evan wouldn't admit it but knowing some of what Prue had gone through was raising his sympathy. "Not Prue," he thought starkly. "Devia. She was never yours!"

"This is where it gets really interesting," Lorne broke in. "After Doctor Darnell's friend healed me we found the ZPM's – they were right there, in the chamber I fell into."

"But they weren't activated, right?" Rodney queried.

"No," Lorne agreed. "Why? You think that means something?"

"Not really," Rodney admitted. "I was just wondering how you and Airman Reed ever detected them in the first place."

"That's a good question," Sheppard agreed.

"Fidesia turned them on," Prue looked only at Evan as she continued. "She was watching over me too – she would have known that you'd be able to pin point where Kara and I were if she could draw you in the right direction. As soon as you found me I imagine she switched the ZPM's off again."

"Knowing that I'd remember those energy readings as soon as you translated that statement off the columns," Evan finished with uncharacteristic cynicism.

"If that's what you want to believe," Prue looked away, shifting in her seat as though she were uncomfortable in the space.

"And then?" Elizabeth drew them back on track with telling their story.

"We had another visit and this one was definitely an ascended Ancient," Evan revealed. "I know because I've seen her before, here in the city, except she was posing as the hologram at the time."

"Morgan Le Fey?" Weir asked incredulously.

"That's right Ma'am," Lorne agreed. "This is all going to sound more than a little crazy. According to Morgan a new group of ascended beings is forming right now and if they gain full strength as a unity the others won't be able to stop them from destroying reality itself. We were led to those ZPM's because that room we found down in the south pier tower is actually an alternative shield she believes we can use to contain them."

"An alternative shield?" Rodney zeroed in on the science with immediate interest.

"So Morgan said," Lorne confirmed. "The Ancient's were playing with drawing energy from other planes of existence and created the shield to store it. They never got around to finishing that project because the Wraith became too great a threat and they had to put all their resources into stopping them. I guess they hid the ZPMs on M4R 322 so they could come back to the project later."

"Their loss, our gain," Rodney said almost gleefully. "If this shield can do what Lorne says, it could be just what we need to hold the Wraith off indefinitely – if we can adapt it. If not then we can certainly use three ZPM's to power the cloak – maybe even work out how to both cloak and shield the city at the same time!"

"Go and check out this device," Weir ordered. Rodney shot to his feet, already on the radio requesting Zelenka join him.

"Is that all Major?" Elizabeth asked once Rodney was gone.

"No its not," Prue said before Evan could answer for himself. "What he failed to share is that Morgan and the other ascended ancients believe the only person who can successfully operate the new shield as would be needed is Major Lorne. No one else has the necessary control of the ancient systems. I'm not one hundred percent sure but I think they were the ones who carved the writings on the columns back on P88 013. They serve as a checking mechanism to ensure that events are unravelling as they are intended to do – that nothing has occurred to shift us from the true path. I think they planted the prophesies about Major Lorne amongst the other statements as a means of identifying him based on what they knew he could do. They were the ones who tested him to make sure he could handle what they needed from him."

"Prophesies ?" Sheppard leant forward, shooting his 2IC a narrow eyed glance. "Something else you forgot to mention Major?"

Resisting the urge to point out that Prue should be the one everyone was glaring at accusingly, Lorne took a moment to gather his thoughts. "It's all in Doctor Jackson's report Sir," he pointed out blandly. "And both you and Doctor Weir were aware that Doctor Darnell had been assisting me in determining whether practice was a factor in using the ATA gene with greater capability. Since I didn't believe something carved thousands of years ago was talking about me I decided that particular fact didn't bear highlighting. If I'd been made aware of certain facts," he shot Prue an angry glare, "the significance of all of this would have warranted a different approach."

"Just how much control do you have Major?" Sheppard asked.

Evan winced, looking around the table and not liking the fact that they were all watching him expectantly. With a sigh he turned back to John. "I always meant to ask you about your own interactions with the city Sir," he admitted. "It just never seemed to be the right time."

"And now it is," Sheppard finished grimly. "You can start by answering my question."

"How much control do I have Sir?" Lorne restated. "Enough to override some of the basic protocols. Enough to only switch things on when I want to."

"Things like the control chair?" Sheppard persisted.

"Ah ... yes Sir," Lorne admitted reluctantly. "I could tell you it was never my intention to mislead anyone but I know that sounds kind of empty in hindsight. When I first came here, having the gene was more an inconvenience that a tactical advantage. It's only been recently that I began to see it differently."

"How anyone interacts with the city has always been private Major," Elizabeth said reassuringly. "And to date no one has been ordered to discuss it. If you'd held back utilising your abilities I would be less inclined to understand your reticence but as far as I'm aware that hasn't been the case. The rest seems to be a natural reluctance on your part to draw attention to yourself."

"Yes ma'am," Lorne said honestly. He might not have been open about how he did things but he'd done them just the same.

"Okay, let's leave that as a separate issue for you and Colonel Sheppard to work out later," Elizabeth decided. "Did Morgan say anything further about this impending threat?"

"Only that the first place they'll head is here," Evan replied. "They know the shield exists and they know there's a chance it could be used against them." He went on to restate everything he could remember Morgan telling him, filling in some of the blanks on the prophesies until everyone knew as much as he did. It wasn't the full story – he had questions he suspected he'd never get an answer to, most of them about Prue and just how much she'd known of the mission the ascended ancients had given her.

"And what was your role in all of this?" Elizabeth questioned Prue.

"Until Ev –," she stopped, corrected herself, "until Major Lorne was injured I believed that the ascended Ancients had chosen me to survive the destruction of Occulus so that I might create the translation program your people would need to defeat a great enemy, greater than the Wraith," Prue explained. "I remembered my life there, my family and friends. I remembered training with the Ancients for many years to perfect my understanding of the language and the skills I would need to create a tool your people still do not have the skill to achieve, all in preparation for my mission. I was aware that they had given me knowledge of your planet sufficient to pass as a native despite my never having been there. I knew they'd ensured that no one would be suspicious of my true origins." She sighed, her expression regretful. "I knew that something was coming ... I knew that Major Lorne's gene was a crucial element in their plans to defeat this enemy. The truth only came back to me when Fidesia answered my plea for help. Only then did I know that most of what I believed was in fact untrue, that I had lied to all of you without intending to, believing my mission to be of greater importance than anything else. I am very sorry for my deceptions Doctor Weir. I don't know what the Ancients' intend for me now that the full truth is out, and request that you allow me to remain in the city until the threat has passed. You will still need the program I created to get the shield working – I can help you with that."

Elizabeth looked at Colonel Sheppard, the two coming to some kind of unspoken agreement. "Very well Doctor," she conceded. "I can see that you are as much a pawn of these ascended ancients as Major Lorne has been. We would be grateful for whatever expertise you can offer should this threat turn out to be real."

"Thank you," Prue said simply.

"Colonel, let's be on the lookout for any threats to the city, from any quarters," Elizabeth told John. "Major, Doctor," she added to Prue and Evan, "assist Doctor McKay to get that shield up and running when he's ready. Dismissed," she concluded, standing and leaving the room, Teyla following close behind.

Lorne got up quickly, intent on escaping somewhere to think, somewhere away from public scrutiny.

"Lorne," John's tone was an order to stop and Evan had no choice but to obey. Sheppard looked at Ronon, nodding towards Prue, another unspoken order all too clear. Now they knew that Prue had direct links to the ascended ancients they couldn't let her roam around the city by herself. Prue smiled sadly, accepting the change in her status without comment as she quickly left the room.

"You okay?" Sheppard asked as soon as they were alone.

"The woman I was planning to spend my future with turns out to be a figment of my imagination and I'm still slotted to be some kind of miraculous saviour for the ancients, so no, I'd have to say I'm not okay Sir!" Lorne blurted out tersely. He regretted the outburst almost immediately, rubbing a hand over his face tiredly. "Sorry Sir," he said weakly. "It's been a ah ... a tough day."

"It sounds like you have every right to be angry Evan," John replied. "Prue lied to you, even if she didn't really know how much at the time. I'd want to punish her for that if I were in your shoes."

"That's another thing," Lorne laughed harshly. "Her name isn't even Prue. It's Devia. Turns out I really didn't know her at all."

"You know what I don't get?" John asked conversationally.

"What's that Sir?" Lorne asked when Sheppard didn't offer anything else.

"If Prue thought she'd been given a mission by the Ancients, why did she get involved with you?" John asked.

"So they could make sure I did what they wanted," Evan retorted.

"Really?" John asked disbelievingly. "Because it seems more like she was helping you personally more than she was helping the ancients. Maybe you should think about that."

"Maybe," Lorne dismissed quickly. He didn't want to think about Prue's motives for getting so close to him – she hadn't needed to, not to fulfil her goals, and it bothered him assigning other reasons to her actions. It didn't matter anyway. Once they'd either ruled out a threat or dealt with it Prue wouldn't be staying. She'd be going back to what she'd been before coming to Atlantis. "I'm sorry I wasn't more open about my use of the gene Sir," he said again, changing the subject.

"Elizabeth's right," John dismissed with a shake of his head. "We're all private about how we actually use the gene – I'm guessing no one ever talked to you about it once you found out you had it. And I can hardly reprimand you for something I'm equally as guilty of."

"I know it's not the time Sir," Lorne began, "but once this is over I'd really appreciate the opportunity to talk to you about it."

"And I want to hear more about how you stop things from just switching on," John replied. "You have no idea how much flack I get from Rodney because of the way things just light up when I get near them."

"I'd be happy to help if I can Sir," Evan agreed, relieved to realise that his reticence hadn't damaged the friendship he'd been building with his CO.

"For now you better get yourself down to help McKay," John ordered. "And Major," he added when Lorne moved off to do just that

"Sir?" Lorne queried.

"Don't be too hard on yourself," Sheppard said simply. "Prue's true origins were a surprise to all of us."

"Yes Sir, Thank you Sir," Evan replied.