ShaViva's Stargate Fan ... Stuff

Inconceivable!

Forlorn Hope: Part Seven

Chapter 39: Approaching home

"Where do you think you're going lad?"

Lorne stopped, turning back to face Doctor Beckett. "To help Doctor McKay," he said simply.

"Not until I've examined you, you aren't," Carson corrected sternly. "By all accounts you almost died Major. I don't care how fine you feel now – we need to make sure there isn't any lingering damage on the inside."

Evan sighed and then nodded. "Sure, right, of course," he agreed, falling into step beside the base CMO.

"Rodney had one of his staff drop off your uniform to the infirmary lad," the Doctor revealed. "He was ... concerned and for Rodney that's saying something."

"Oh," Lorne grimaced. He'd forgotten about the rolled up jacket he'd left in the pack he'd given the scientist.

"What happened?" Carson asked gently, guiding Evan up onto one of the scanners and setting the machine going.

"I fell," Lorne said bluntly as the blue beam passed over him. "Felt like I broke every bone in my body Doc. I was pretty much out of it until Prue's ...," he stopped, took a deep breath, and continued, "until one of the ascended appeared. She healed me."

"I think you've glossed over the details there Major," Carson admonished. "From the state of what you were wearing your body suffered extreme trauma. I don't think the healing process necessarily negates all of that." He hesitated for a moment and then spoke. "Tell me about the healing lad."

"Ah ...," Evan shrugged, getting up and following Carson to one of the examination beds. "Not much to tell Doc," he said as he said down. "It hurt like a son of a bitch – worst than my injuries. Felt like it took a while too, how long I can't really say for sure."

"And Prue?" Carson asked quietly. "It must have been very distressing for her to see you like that."

"I don't want to talk about that," Lorne dismissed tersely.

"Don't be too hard on her lad," Carson advised. "From what I've seen and heard, ascended beings don't look kindly on anyone who oversteps their boundaries. Prue risked a harsh punishment to save your life."

"I know," Evan pressed his hands to his eyes, wanting to block out more than just Beckett's understanding and sympathy. "And I'll thank her for that – when I can look at her and see more than just the woman who's been lying to me since the day we met."

"I'm sorry for what you're going through lad," Carson squeezed Evan's shoulder bracingly and then stepped back. "Well, from what I can tell you're as good as new. I'd still recommend you take it easy for a couple of days – and come and see me if anything seems off, and I mean anything," he instructed firmly.

"No problems Doc," Lorne agreed, hopping down from the bed. "Thanks."

"You're welcome Major," Caron replied.

Once outside the infirmary Evan stopped, resting his back against the wall. He'd been so consumed with keeping control of his own emotions that he'd failed to see the wider impact. Everyone knew that he and Prue were together ... and everyone would know that she'd misled him. Carson's reaction was probably the first of many expressions of concern he was likely to get. If he could he'd order everyone to keep their opinions to themselves, and not because he wasn't grateful for the concern. He just wasn't sure he could take the pity and keep it all in the box ... he needed time, but right now that was the one thing he didn't have. With a sigh he pushed away from the wall and continued on towards McKay's lab.

oOo

"About time you got down here," Rodney complained as soon as Lorne strode into the shield room.

"If you wanted me down here earlier you shouldn't have passed my uniform on to Doctor Beckett," Lorne retorted, looking around and feeling relief that Prue wasn't there.

"Oh ... right," Rodney said awkwardly. "Did he grill you?"

"You could say that," Evan replied. Looking at the ZPM interface, still minus its three ZPM's he glanced at Rodney in surprise. "You haven't powered it up yet?"

"Be my guest Major," McKay waved a hand towards the console.

Lorne looked at the scientist suspiciously before turning his attention to the interface. The set up was just like the vision he'd had in the chair ... which implied that as soon as they put the ZPMs in place a barrier would cut them off from being removed.

"We can't power it up yet," he told Rodney. "Not until we're sure this is what we want to use the ZPM's for. Once they're in place we might not be able to get them back."

"See, now I knew that from spending the last couple of hours trawling though the code for the power up module," Rodney grumbled. "There's no way you could tell just from looking at it!"

"I've seen the room before McKay, when it was powered up," Lorne explained, knowing he was letting himself in for a McKay grilling. "That's how I knew it was important when Kennedy's team stumbled across this room."

"You've seen it? How is that even possible?" McKay scoffed. "This room probably hasn't been live since the Wraith started emerging from their bug caves."

"Look, I know this is gonna sound crazy," Lorne began. "Hell, most of the time I'm not sure I didn't just dream the whole thing but ... the city showed me, McKay. It showed me this room, fully operational." And then a thought struck him. "Although ...," he frowned. "Maybe it wasn't the city ... maybe it was the Ascended who gave me that vision – all part of the grand plan to get us to do what they want."

"You do realise you're not making any sense, right?" Rodney said impatiently.

"Huh?" Evan blinked, switching off his thoughts as he focussed back on McKay. "Oh, sorry. Ah ... let's just pretend we understand the how and move on to the what. From what I was shown, with those ZPM's slotted into place some kind of force field is engaged, I assume to protect them from being removed prematurely."

"Because they were experimenting with energy from other planes of existence," Rodney elaborated. "If the connections weren't closed off properly before the device was disengaged the results could have been catastrophic." He turned back to the control panel purposefully. "So, how do we determine what it's capable of if we can't plug it in?"

"More than that, how do we use it to stop these ascended beings from destroying Atlantis?" Lorne added.

"You didn't get any clues when they were showing you this room?" Rodney asked.

"No, although Radek did disconnect the chair while I was still ... here," Evan gestured to the room at large.

"So you might have seen more," Rodney concluded thoughtfully. "Maybe we need to get you back in the command chair," he muttered, thinking aloud, "after I finish deconstructing this programming. I need Doctor Darnell and her translation program – some of this is structured in the same way."

"No one's stopping you from requesting assistance from anyone McKay," Lorne said blandly.

"Right," Rodney blinked, suddenly looking awkward. "I guess I should say something supportive right now," his expression made it clear he couldn't think of anything that would qualify.

"Not on my account," Evan retorted dismissively.

"Ah ... okay, um," Rodney looked at Lorne for a moment and then nodded. "Don't go too far Major ... I'll let you know when we need you again."

"Keep me informed McKay," Lorne ordered before quickly striding away. Yeah, he'd been right. If even Rodney McKay felt the need to offer comments about Prue, Evan was in for a painful time.

oOo

Lorne avoided any populated places, including the ones most likely to contain Nate and the rest of his team - he'd have to talk them sooner rather than later but wasn't ready to go down that road just yet. He ended up back at his quarter but he just couldn't settle. He tried the gym and the punching bag but the turmoil of emotion inside was too great to be dampened in the usual manner. All the unanswered questions were driving him crazy – and although he didn't want to see Prue right then, he had to because surely if he knew the answers he'd be able to silence his thoughts.

She wasn't in her quarters so he went to her lab. It was dark and for a moment he thought she wasn't there either until a rustle of something on the floor alerted him to her presence.

"Prue?" he said, trying to keep his tone as emotionless as possible. He didn't want to show her his pain or his anger ... or his grief.

"Evan!" Prue rushed forward, the light from the corridor illuminating her face.

She was pale but for the redness around her eyes. Lorne felt a pang of regret that she'd obviously spent some of the hours since she'd left the conference room crying ... and reminded himself grimly again that she'd brought it on herself.

"Are you ... are you okay?" she asked hesitantly, stopping a few steps in front of him.

"I couldn't sleep," he admitted.

"I'm so sorry Evan," Prue exclaimed, fresh tears rising in her eyes.

"I don't need your apologies Prue," Evan replied grimly. "Or should I be calling you Devia now?"

"No!" Prue protested forcefully. Taking a visibly deep breath she said in a more even tone. "I like Prue."

"I did too," Evan shook his head, "but Prue doesn't really exist, does she?"

"I'm as real as you are," Prue corrected him. "The only difference is in our origins, and how we each came to be here."

"Right, of course," Evan said disbelievingly. "Look, that doesn't matter anyway. I just ... I need to know why Prue."

"Why what?"

"I don't like it, and I sure as hell don't agree with their methods, but I understand why the ascended felt it necessary to manipulate events to get us to the point where we could help them," Evan moved further into the room, being careful to keep his distance as he passed her to stand in front of the window. "They want to survive just as much as anyone." He turned to face her. "And I get why they sent you – to make sure us mere humans learned what we needed to learn to be useful to them. But what I don't understand is why the rest of it Prue. Why us?" he gestured between them, signalling the relationship that had existed.

"Because I'm one of those mere humans too," Prue admitted sadly. "I tried to avoid forming connections here but you made it impossible Evan. You just kept pushing and pushing and I ... I had so much feeling inside – from now and from before. I just couldn't contain it, especially not in the face of your determination."

"So you're saying it's my fault you pretended we could have a future together when you knew that was never going to happen?" Lorne shot back angrily.

"They used me just as much as they're using you," Prue cried, swiping a hand over her face.

Evan tried not to feel anything being witness to her pain but he couldn't because despite everything he did still love her and that wasn't something he could just switch off, no matter how betrayed he felt.

"You're not going to forgive me, are you?" Prue's voice was hoarse with tears.

"I don't know," Evan admitted. Running a hand through his hair, frustrated and confused, he shook his head. "Whether I believe Morgan's story or not, they sent you here for a reason Prue. Surely once that reason no longer exists you'll be going back to what you were before, back to Devia."

"I know you don't believe me but I never lied to you Evan, not about anything that mattered," Prue said softly. "I left things out because I had to. I claimed a background that wasn't mine to claim. But everything else was me."

"I don't know what I believe anymore," Lorne said sadly. "Especially about you Prue ... I'm not sure you're not just a figment of my imagination, something they created because they knew you would get to me."

"Evan," Prue cried again, the pain he'd caused with his words visible in the careful way she held herself. "I wish I could show you the truth but ...," she trailed off, tears streaming down her face.

"But you can't," he finished. Watching her cry was hurting him too – the last thing he wanted was to break down in front of her. "I'm sorry Prue – I can't ... I can't do this right now." He had to leave before he lost it ... had to gather himself together and move on to working out how to solve their immediate problems. Ignoring her tears, ignoring the way she called out to him, Lorne turned and strode away.

oOo

Instead of going to his quarters again, Evan climbed the stairs of the central tower until he was as high up as he could get. Then he sat on the cold balcony floor, his back against the wall, the world around him just a background for his thoughts. He couldn't get past how betrayed he felt and it wasn't about Prue not being exactly as she'd set out to make them believe. In a way he understood that too – she'd been given an important mission by the Ancients and did what she'd needed to do to achieve it. In her place he probably would have done the same. No, it was the betrayal of a future he'd genuinely believed they would have that stabbed at him now. That hadn't been part of her mission and, despite her explanation Evan just didn't believe her conscience had been overcome by her feelings for him.

"She was in love with you long before they sent her here," Fidesia shimmered into view on the balcony, blocking his view of the ocean below them.

"And you were her best friend," Evan didn't question how she'd found him or why she was even talking to him.

"Perhaps," Fidesia smiled. "You are as stubborn as Devia always said you were."

"I'm sorry ... Devia?" Lorne frowned, confused.

"She did not tell you?" Fidesia looked surprised.

"Tell me what?" Lorne asked, exasperated.

"Perhaps it is better if I show you," Fidesia mused. Reaching down she pulled him to his feet, standing close enough that he could feel some kind of echo of her ascended-ness, the power she had at her disposal. "Watch and listen well Evan Lorne," she commanded, before leaning forward so that her forehead touched his.

Atlantis faded away, replaced by a glowing canvass, blank of any expression of his surroundings.

"Where are we?" he queried.

"Inside Devia's thoughts," Fidesia revealed.

And then he could hear them, in Prue's voice as plainly as if she'd been standing in front of him speaking only to him.

oOo

He was fascinating. There was no other word for it. At first Devia had followed Morgan to Atlantis because she was curious to see the city occupied again, and even more curious to see this human that everyone believed would be their saviour. Once she'd seen Major Evan Lorne, Evan as he'd insisted Morgan call him, Devia returned just to see him again.

She couldn't say why he so fascinated her ... of course, he was very attractive, with a strong build that suggested he would be both good in a fight and able to provide that feeling of physical protection a woman of her own prior short stature appreciated. But she'd known other men equally as attractive. His blue eyes often flashed with humour as well as a dry wit that bordered on sarcasm ... something she found very appealing. Again, others she'd known had a sense of humour that appealed as much. She'd only had to observe Evan on a few occasions to understand how honest, dependable and honourable he was ... he did the right thing because he believed in it and his judgement seemed never to be flawed. She admired his character as she'd admired others in the past. His mental capacity impressed her too – she could tell he had an affinity for the Ancient systems, that his gene connection to the Asurans was very strong for one so removed from their origins. He had that connection but he didn't rely on it or exploit it, just the opposite. He had a different way of thinking that often saw him suggesting or doing something she wouldn't have predicted as the most obvious solution. More often than not it worked in his favour. That unpredictable way of thinking would come in handy if the others were right and he was the one they intended to place such a heavy burden on.

Evan had a gentle soul – she saw it in how he'd lose himself in a sunrise, or the view from a balcony, or in hours spent sketching in the book he often carried around with him. It was a conflict of purpose that intrigued her given he was also a soldier. Perhaps it was that and the fact that so many of the qualities she found interesting were centred in this one man that had her returning time and time again just to watch him.

She watched him find his place in the city. The first time she overstepped her role as simply observer was the first time he left the city and ventured to another world. She'd had to follow him just to see how he would handle himself. When he'd been stunned after too much exposure to the planet's harsh sunlight Devia had sent a cooling breeze before she'd thought about the consequences.

Expecting the others to punish her for interfering, instead she'd been surprised when they'd offered her a more active role. Watch over Evan Lorne ... from a distance ... and provide whatever support she deemed would keep him on the right track. Minor support only, they'd stressed, just enough to keep him happy and engaged. It was Morgan's job to drop specific hints that would have Evan moving in the direction they needed him to move. And even then they had to be careful not to overstep into the realm of altering the humans' true path because to do so would negate anything they believed Evan could achieve for them.

She'd agreed and begun one of the most enjoyable and confusing sectors of her time as an ascended being. Back in her new role when Evan left the infirmary after that first off world mission, she'd tweaked the feedback the city gave its creators, feedback she knew Evan also perceived, and eased his headache. More than that she'd conjured flowers from her lost home and left them as a sign of visible comfort and support, relying on their spiritual properties to sooth Evan's troubled heart. When neither action raised protests from her brethren they'd become the basis for how she operated.

Until she made the biggest mistake of all and fell in love with him.

It had been so long since she'd been so close to another person, so long since she'd felt such a connection that it took time to realise what she felt. Devia hadn't believed the ascended could feel love like that – they were so used to taking a position of not interfering that the very idea of placing so much value on one individual was ridiculous.

But she did place value on Evan Lorne ... so much that she was willing to do anything to protect him, even if it meant protecting him from herself and those like her.

Of course the others knew immediately. They'd known before she had and let it happen – because it served their purposes even more than just having her watch over Evan from afar. The new role they'd suggested had both tormented and delighted her ... deciding on the right thing to do alone was beyond her. It was the kind of thing she wished she could talk to Evan himself about – his morale centre and instinctive understanding of what was right, plus his commitment to matching that with action was just what she needed. In the absence of being able to do that Devia talked to the being she had been closest to prior to discovering her feelings for Evan.

oOo

"She came to me," Fidesia told Evan.

The bright blank canvas shifted and Evan saw instead a city to rival Atlantis. Tall towers, white marble, hundreds of stained glass windows that caught the sun and cast multicoloured shadows all around. It was beautiful and the artistic side of Evan longed for a brush and palette to capture it.

"Occulus," Fidesia said sadly, "as it was before the Wraith destroyed it. We were a lone two amongst the ascended, Devia and I, ... there because we sacrificed our lives to keep the Stargate open, saving a large number of our people from the vicious Wraith attack that eventually destroyed our world. Instead of death, we were surprised to be given the chance to ascend. We found it within ourselves to understand our existence, everything that had led us to that point in time, and somehow managed the feat of leaving behind our physical form and continuing on as pure energy.

But we never left our origins behind. Devia and I often recreated Occulus as a place to meet and discuss our place amongst the ascended. Because we weren't from Atlantis, because we were new to the journey of ascension, letting go of our concern for this galaxy was difficult, particularly in the early years."

"You helped each other adjust?" Evan asked, watching as they seemed to fly through the city until they emerged in what he knew could only be Devia's work space. The equipment looked different but the stacks of books, the scribbles of translations on any available surface and the cluttered but uniquely organised space was just Prue.

Prue stood at the window, Fidesia at her side, only it was a Prue like he'd never seen before. Instead of the tightly pulled back hair and primly neat uniform, her hair was loose and flowing down her back. She wore a white dress that clung to her curves before flaring away to flow about her legs. He'd always thought that Prue was beautiful, but as Devia she took his breath away – because he could see that this was how she was meant to be. Her essence, that bright spark that drove her, was there in Devia where it had been hidden, subdued in Prue. It made him sad all over again to realise that despite his struggles to know her, he'd never even gotten close.

"Listen without judging," Fidesia commanded.

oOo

"You must tell me what is right," Devia pleaded with Fidesia.

"You would give up your place amongst us for one human?" Fidesia asked. Before Devia had loved she wouldn't have thought it possible for any of them to hurt, but now she knew her potential decision would hurt her friend.

"He is not just one human Fee," Devia replied. "Even without my own feelings you know this is true. The council is convinced he is the one we have been waiting for, the one they ignored time itself to guide on his path to this galaxy."

"That may be true, but if you make this decision there is no going back," Fidesia sighed. "I do not want to contemplate the rest of eternity without you beside me."

"We have discovered much about ourselves because of this one man," Devia smiled. "For that alone we should thank him."

"What exactly do they want you to do?"

"He is not listening to Morgan as they would like," Devia laughed. "Evan is stubborn and very sure of his purpose ... hints from a hologram haven't been enough to have him ignoring his duty to explore what a gene as strong as his can do. Morgan's last report was discouraging."

"So they think he will listen to you?" Fidesia asked curiously.

"That isn't what they want from me," Devia let strands of her energy touch her friend, let her feel the conflict she was feeling. "My job will be to bring the humans forward in the knowledge of our ancestors they will need – language mostly – and, through proper research of the Atlantis database, show them that their current utilisation of the gene is surface to what they can do," she explained. "If that isn't sufficient to bring Evan up to speed I'm to contrive situations that will test him. Morgan will continue to act as an advisor to guide him and assist me where necessary."

"You can bring yourself to do this, to put this man under pressure when it is for their purposes alone?" Fidesia frowned.

"It is for all of us Fee," Devia reminded her friend. "We break our own rules even in this small way, but is it wrong to do so when our very existence is threatened? If we fall then all of humanity will fall with us."

"I know, but I don't understand how they expect you to achieve what you must achieve."

"If I go they will create a human place for me that will be above suspicion – I will have to give up everything I've learned about Evan, everything I feel – because they believe I will not be able to pretend an ignorance and disregard that I do not feel. The irony is that they use my love for Evan to get me to agree to do this."

"You won't remember any of it?" Fidesia was horrified. "I know of their callousness and yet I can't believe they would be so cruel as to ask you to give up everything for this man and then take away all knowledge of why!"

"But I would be helping him too," Devia pointed out. "At the end of the day isn't that more important than how I feel?"

"You do love him," Fidesia said it like she was only just believing it. She smiled. "And so, you do not really need my advice."

"No – better me than any other solution they might devise," Devia smiled in return. "I would ask a favour Fee, if I may?"

"Of course," Fidesia replied immediately.

"Would you take my place in watching over Evan, do for him what I would have continued to do but for this chance to do more?" Fidesia knew everything that Devia had done and so knew exactly what she was being asked to do.

"I will ... until he no longer needs me," Fidesia agreed. "You may be giving up what you feel and what you know of him but I believe that returning you to human form will not make you a different being. Whatever it was that drew you to this man will draw you again ... whatever made you love him will have the same influence on you again. When you are there to support him I will withdraw ... and watch over both of you from a distance."

"Thank you," Devia hugged her friend close. "You have been a true companion for years without counting. I will miss you beyond measure."

"And I you," Fidesia said simply. They remained close for a time before Fidesia pulled back. "What will you call yourself?"

"I had not ... yes, my own name would not be appropriate," Devia realised. "Perhaps they will give me a name as well."

"May I suggest something?" Fidesia asked.

"Of course," Devia smiled. "I would like to take something of our friendship with me when I leave."

"Prudence," Fidesia offered.

Devia laughed. "Wisdom? You think me worthy of such a name?"

"Yes," Fidesia said simply. "Even with what you are doing, giving up everything you have become for the good of this man and of all of us, I believe you will still be what you have always been. A wise and generous soul."

"Thank you Fee," Devia felt both humbled and saddened. "I will wear the name in honour of you and of our people. It will comfort me greatly to know you watch over us."

The friends embraced again before Devia felt the call of the council. It was time to become someone who would remember nothing of what was most important.

oOo

Evan could hardly believe what he'd witnessed – what he'd heard and what he'd felt of Devia's emotions. It had all been Prue – the flowers and the feeling that he wasn't alone just when he needed it the most. Even that last time when Prue had already been in the city, indirectly she'd still been behind it. "She shouldn't have given up so much for me," he said blankly.

"At first I believed as you do," Fidesia replied. "But in watching over you both I was reminded of why it is we struggle to survive and do our best for those around us. Without love there are no reasons ... something as ascended beings we have forgotten. We are together but at the same time we are as removed from emotion as it is possible to be. Perhaps it is for this that we have need of one such as you Evan Lorne."

"I ah ... I don't know what to say," Evan admitted weakly, his thoughts still back on the Occulus she'd shown him, on Devia. Could he believe that she hadn't changed as much as the surface would suggest when she'd become Prudence Darnell?

"I showed you this because your task is still in front of you, and you will need each other to see it through," Fidesia explained. "They come ...," she pointed out towards the horizon.

Lorne moved to the railing, looking out over the ocean. There, where the sun was rising. A darkness, somehow blacker than night itself.

"Lorne to the control room," he radioed grimly, turning away from the ocean.

"Sheppard here," John answered.

"I'm at the top of the Central tower Sir," Lorne reported. "There's something out on the horizon you need to see."

"We have it on sensors Major," the Colonel replied, which explained why he'd been in the control room so early.

"I'm on my way Sir," Lorne declared. Turning back to where Fidesia stood, he wasn't surprised to find her gone.

 

Chapter 40: Prophecies from home

Reminder: Forlorn hope ...

In military affairs this refers to a detachment of men appointed to lead in an assault, to storm a counterscarp, enter a breach, or perform other service attended with uncommon peril.

"Can we tell what it is?" Lorne asked, standing behind Rodney McKay as he tapped away at the keyboard. He'd almost run from the top of the tower to get to the control room, everything inside telling him they were at a crucial turning point.

"I'll have a better idea as it gets closer," Rodney replied. Glancing up he looked at Colonel Sheppard. "One thing I can confirm is that on its current heading it will pass directly over the city."

"And there's nothing to say that it isn't just a harmless cloud," Sheppard pointed out.

"Not so far," Rodney agreed. "And once we commit the ZPMs to the other shield we can't get them back. I for one can think of plenty of things I'd rather do with them than follow the instructions of a hologram turned Ancient, no offence Lorne."

"None taken," Evan returned. "Do we have any way of finding out if this cloud thing is a threat?" he asked. "Like a UAV?"

"That's a great idea Major, except for the part where we'd actually need a UAV," Rodney retorted sarcastically.

"What about a drone?" Lorne exchanged a glance with John, the two of them one of only a handful of humans who'd actually used drones in any real sense.

Sheppard considered the idea and then nodded. "It could work Rodney," he told his team mate. "Drones aren't like missiles – you retain control until they hit their target. If we can send one in without detonating it, can you rig it to collect information from inside that cloud?"

"Maybe, yes ... yes I can," Rodney jumped up. "I'll need ten minutes or so – at the rate that cloud's approaching it doesn't leave us much time to make a decision."

"Get on it," Sheppard ordered. "Let us know when you're ready. Lorne will be waiting down in the control chair."

"Me Sir?" Evan frowned as McKay hurried off. "You've had more experience in the chair than I have."

"Maybe, but I'm pretty sure I don't have your level of control," John replied. "If I sit down in it, it lights up like a Christmas Tree, whether I want it to or not. We'll only get one shot at this so we need to make it count."

"You're putting a lot of trust on skills you've never even observed," Evan pointed out.

"No, I'm putting my trust in you Evan," John said determinedly. "And since it's not in your nature to let anyone down I think that trust is well placed."

"Ah ... I'm not sure if I should thank you for that Sir," Lorne admitted ruefully. He knew the Colonel - stepping aside to let someone else take the hot seat went against John's nature. That he was doing it now really brought home just how serious Sheppard was taking not only the imminent threat but the explanation from Prue and Morgan that accompanied it.

"It'll be fine Major. You better head down to the chair now – knowing Rodney he'll be ready with that drone before you get there," Sheppard motioned for Lorne to get moving. "I'll send Zelenka down to meet you but we'll be monitoring you from the control room too."

"Yes Sir," Lorne acknowledged before striding quickly out the door. He broke into a jog once out in the corridor, finding the transporter that would take him closest to his destination and then running down stairs and through hallways until he hit the chair room.

"Lorne to Control," he said, sitting in the chair but not activating it. "I'm ready down here."

"Did you take the scenic route Major?" Rodney's sarcastic voice came through loud and clear.

"Not exactly," Evan returned. "Is the drone ready?"

"And waiting," McKay sounded smug now. "If you can get it inside that cloud without setting it off it'll give us everything we need."

"Major," Radek hurried through the door, pushing his glasses up his nose as he squinted at Evan.

"Just in time Doc," Lorne replied. "Okay, let's get started." He settled back in the chair, reclining as he activated it. "Firing drone," he murmured, accessing drone control and launching the single drone. He stayed with it mentally as he sent it out from the city and towards the horizon.

As he had when he'd launched drones from the Orion, Lorne retained awareness of his physical self but also saw what the drone was seeing. The ocean, still and calm beneath it; the sun now clear of the horizon and making its slow ascent up into the sky. And the black swirling cloud that looked less and less like a weather phenomenon and more like something truly evil the closer the drone got.

Lorne was with the drone as it punched through the outer edge of the cloud and into the heart of it. He was still connected when abruptly every pulse of ancient energy was drained from the drone in the blink of an eye. The drone dropped uselessly into the ocean but it didn't stop there. Evan felt the same forces at work trying to move through him and get to the city itself. The cloud wanted what Atlantis was – its power and whatever it was that made it uniquely ancient, that sent it's feedback to people like Lorne.

He was peripherally aware of the radio chatter – McKay protesting that he hadn't had enough time to get a full set of readings, Sheppard calling for Lorne to give them a report from his perspective, his tone getting more urgent and worried when Lorne didn't reply. And in the room, Radek's nervous pacing as he muttered to himself in Czech.

That was all in the background though – most of his attention was on shutting down his connection to the city, shutting out the entities driving that cloud towards Atlantis. It wasn't the same as when he'd been tested back on P88-013 but there were similarities, enough that he could quickly put up a barrier between his mind and Atlantis. The background static of the city shut off in his head, leaving only what he was now sensing from that cloud.

"You cannot stop us. We will grow in strength as others join us. Wrongs will be righted, injustices dealt with swiftly. No more will we sit back and watch while those as we used to be suffer and die needlessly. You should not want to stop us."

"Watch me," Lorne thought back determinedly. He couldn't have said how he did it – maybe in the same way he'd defended himself when they'd tried to rewrite his DNA. The core of strength he'd clung to then now enabled him to extend out the mental walls he'd constructed to protect the city, far enough that the entities controlling the cloud of darkness could no longer threaten him, nor attempt to drain the city through him.

With a shudder he returned to himself, sitting up in the chair, his heart pounding.

"Oh, thank God," Radek exclaimed.

"Major Lorne, please respond," Sheppard demanded over comms.

"Sorry Sir," Evan replied. "I ah ... I'm not sure exactly what happened there. Did McKay get enough data before the drone lost power?"

"Enough to know that we are so screwed," Rodney said sickly. "If that cloud gets within metres of the city it will suck the life out of every system, leaving behind nothing for us to salvage once it's gone."

"So it really can destroy Atlantis?" Lorne concluded.

"The city will still be standing but it'll be as good as dead, along with every living thing inside it, and no one will be able to restart the systems, ever," Rodney revealed starkly.

"Okay, so ... not harmless then," Evan muttered, exchanging a worried glance with Zelenka.

"No," Sheppard agreed. "We're going to have to take what Morgan told you on faith Major. We need that shield."

"Then I recommend we evacuate the city of all non essential personnel immediately Sir," Lorne advised.

"Concentrate on saving the city Major," John said. "I'll take care of the rest."

"Yes Sir. I'll meet McKay in the shield room," Lorne conceded grimly.

"And make it snappy," Rodney's impatience translated too easily through the radio. "We haven't got a lot of time to make this work."

"Already on my way," Lorne replied.

oOo

"Three ZedPM's," McKay was almost whimpering as he and Lorne prepared to insert the power cells into their slots. They'd decided that Rodney would stay back, monitoring the device from the console a few paces away from the wall. Evan would take each ZPM and slot it into position in turn. He wasn't really that worried, but part of him did wonder how long after the last ZPM he'd have before the barrier was raised ... because he'd have to put most of his arms inside the cavity to put the ZPM's where they needed to be. "Don't borrow trouble," he thought.

"Do you have any idea what we could do in the city with these?" Rodney complained. "We could re-sink the city, or better still, take it into orbit."

"Would that stop this thing from being a threat?" Lorne asked.

"Ah - probably not," Rodney admitted, "not in the time we have left anyway."

"Then why would we want to do either of those McKay?" Evan queried, amused. Only Rodney would be more concerned about such things when they had danger looming on the horizon.

"I don't know but it would be nice to have the option in the future!" Rodney exclaimed. With a sigh he straightened, fingers posed over the console. "You might as well get this over with," he said reluctantly.

"Don't worry McKay – surely these aren't the only ZPM's left in the galaxy," Evan replied, picking up the first one. He took a moment to steady himself and then quickly and competently inserted it into position. With a faint whoosh and click it slid into place. "One down," Lorne murmured, reaching for the second ZPM. Following the same process they were quickly down to one left.

"Any idea what's going to happen once this one is in position?" Lorne asked Rodney, the last ZPM in his hands.

"Ah, no, not really. You?" Rodney replied.

"No," Lorne returned. "I guess there's only one way to find out," he murmured. Raising the ZPM, he leaned back inside the wall cavity, carefully putting the power cell into the last remaining hole.

"Wait!" Prue's urgent voice stopped his hands just before he could push the ZPM downwards. Rearing up at the interruption Lorne forgot where he was, banging his head against the top of the cavity.

"What?" he demanded, straightening with a hand to the back of his head. That had hurt but he wouldn't look to Prue for sympathy – not any more.

"You can't do that, not yet," Prue insisted. She looked determined to confront him and the atmosphere between them was quickly uncomfortable.

"Okay, why not?" Lorne struggled to keep his tone calm. He hadn't kidded himself into thinking he was handling his emotions over what had happened with Prue but he did think he had his mental walls up sufficiently - seeing her suddenly there in front of him made a mockery of that. It hurt to still feel a surge of attraction ... love ... for her. That and the anger and grief was a powerful mix he struggled for a moment to get control of. "You are aware that we don't have a lot of time here, right?"

"Yes, but if you put that ZPM into the device before you have the control crystal in place even you won't be able to do anything with it," Prue warned.

"Control crystal?" Rodney latched on to that immediately. "What control crystal?"

"I don't know exactly," Prue admitted. "I just know it's crucial."

"You're sure?" Lorne let himself look at Prue fully, eyes tracking over the familiar features. She wasn't what he'd believed but still he trusted himself to know what drove her, and right now that was certainty.

"Yes," Prue said simply. Walking towards him she stopped, drawing his attention to the floor where he stood. "See here ... this writing. I know it's worn and its taken me hours with the translation program to make sense of it. It talks about the sphere of control. Does that mean anything?"

"I looked the power interface over in minute detail," Rodney protested. "There weren't any empty slots Doctor."

"The translation is correct Doctor McKay," Prue insisted patiently. "You believe me, right?" she looked at Evan hopefully.

Nodding, Lorne looked at the device thoughtfully, broadening his focus to include the wall and the floor. Squatting, he ran his fingers over the Ancient words, stopping when he detected a faint indentation. Rubbing the tip of his finger over the spot experimentally he checked the result, noting the dirt that now covered his skin. And then it came to him in a rush. Jumping up he ran for the door. "Don't go anywhere, I'll be right back," he called over his shoulder.

Evan ran down the corridor to the transporter, getting out as close to his quarters as he could. Jogging down the hall he swiped his hand over the door control, rushing through the entrance as soon as he could. Inside he glanced around for a moment and then moved over to the shelf over his desk.

There it was ... the small blue marble like stone he'd found with Prue's flowers. Picking it up he raised it towards the window, prisms of light sparking out and dazzling his eyes. "The sphere of control," he murmured, hoping to hell that he was right.

"Sheppard to Lorne, what's your status?" John queried over the radio.

"We've stumbled across a minor problem Sir," Lorne reported. "The device requires a control stone."

"And do we have such a stone Major?" Sheppard returned.

"Ah ... I hope so Sir," Lorne replied. "I'll radio when we're ready to activate the shield."

"Zelenka says we've only got a few minutes Lorne – fifteen at the most," John advised.

"Understood," Evan acknowledged, quickly closing off the channel. Pocketing the marble he delayed only to grab his pocket knife before he turned and ran back the way he'd come, moving fast enough that he was slightly out of breath by the time he got back to the shield room.

"Ah, here he is, Major Mysterious!" Rodney said irritably.

"Sorry," Lorne moved quickly to the floor in front of the ZPMs, dropping to one knee. Pulling out his knife he used the screwdriver extension and began gorging the dirt from what he hoped was an intended hole in the floor.

"What in God's name are you doing?" Rodney complained, his face a mask of impatience.

"Solving our problem," Lorne shot back. "Now be quiet McKay or so help me I'll send you out of here and man that console and the ZPMs myself. And don't think I can't do both!" His eyes met Prue's for a minute, noting the amused smile on her face, surprised that he wanted to smile back.

Turning his attention back to the task at hand he refused to let himself get distracted. It took some time because he had to remove the dirt carefully so that it didn't lodge at the bottom, but eventually he'd punched through and discovered that the hole was a lot deeper than he'd expected.

"Right ... well I guess this is another one of those 'if we don't try it we won't know' moments," Evan said as he removed the marble from his pocket and held it up for the others to see.

"Where'd you get that?" Rodney demanded.

"Ah ... my guardian angel," Evan didn't look at Prue as he uttered those words. After what Fidesia had shown him he knew that's what Devia had been, in the beginning and when she'd given him flowers and a pretty blue stone. He wondered if she'd known what it was for at the time ... if this was just another step he was following along a path that had been inevitable since he'd first set foot on P88-013.

"Thank you," Prue whispered. Lorne couldn't help but glance back at her – when he saw her expression he knew she had no recollection of giving him the stone. Another manipulation he could lay at the Ascended's door.

"Okay," Lorne took a moment to prepare himself and then calmly dropped the marble into the hole. It fit perfectly. When it hit the bottom a twang of feedback sounded through Evan's mind, sending a tingling through his whole body.

"Did it work?" Rodney demanded. "Because I'm not picking up anything here."

"Yeah, it worked all right," Lorne said distractedly, slowly getting to his feet. He felt strange – disconnected from himself at the same time that he felt more connected to Atlantis. She was whispering to him ... urging him to take over.

"Evan?" Prue risked putting a hand on his arm, her concern palpable.

"I'm okay," he put a hand over hers reassuringly and then stepped away, moving back to the ZPMs. "Lorne to Sheppard. Be advised we are activating the shield." With resolve he pushed the last ZPM into place with click.

"That cloud is almost on us Lorne," Sheppard said urgently.

"I'm on it Sir," Lorne stepped back a second before the barrier rose, protecting the ZPMs from premature removal.

"The system is on line," Rodney reported. His fingers flew over the console as he attempted to activate the shield. "It's not working ... why isn't it working?"

"Move over McKay," Lorne gestured for the scientist to step back, placing his own hands on the console. He didn't bother trying to run commands the way Rodney had – he just tapped into the system mentally. "Shield," he commanded firmly.

A wave of power shot from the ZPMs, hitting the barrier and bouncing back. Inside Lorne's head the noise was almost overwhelming – the power he was picking up much stronger than anything he'd experienced before. Bracing himself he kept control of the shield, pushing it out until it covered the city, and not a moment too soon.

The black cloud struck the shield, the clash a thunderous sound everyone could hear. The result was like the drone all over again – Evan could feel the way the ascended beings were absorbing the power from the ZPM's.

"Ah ... we've got a problem here," Rodney reported. "McKay to Sheppard – are you registering this?"

"We've got quite a light show going on up here Rodney," John replied. "Should we be concerned that cloud is thinning to cover the entire shield?"

"Probably, but I think our more pressing concern is the rate at which power is being drained from the ZPMs," Rodney returned. "On current estimates they'll be fully depleted within the next ten to fifteen minutes."

"How is that possible McKay? They were all fully charged!" Sheppard protested.

"Hey, don't shoot the messenger!" Rodney retorted.

"How's Lorne doing?" John asked in a more reasonable tone.

"He looks like he's about to collapse," Rodney said bluntly.

"I heard that!" Lorne glared at McKay. Although, truth be known he was feeling ... weak, like the Ascended inside the cloud where draining his energy along with the ZPM's.

"Can you do this Major?" Sheppard asked quietly, both men well aware of what John was asking him to do - what Evan was risking. "We still have time to evacuate the remaining personnel."

"And abandon the city? Let them win?" Lorne demanded. "I don't think so Sir. Besides, we have no idea what the consequences would be – for Pegasus, for back home." But there was no doubt that he was struggling. Sweat beaded his face with the effort of keeping the shield fully over the city with no vulnerable spots. The feedback he was getting from Atlantis was encouraging but it wasn't helping.

He knew what they were facing. Standing firm was a game he couldn't win. "Think Evan!" he admonished himself. It didn't make sense – Morgan has been sure the shield could hold the breakaway Ascended off but clearly that was wrong. Well, not wrong exactly, because they hadn't managed to breach the shield as such. Which meant that ...

"I've got an idea Sir," Lorne said quickly. "I don't have time to explain but – well, it might be best if you evacuate the city anyway Sir, just in case. I'm not exactly sure what will happen if this works."

"I'll send everyone else but I'm not going anywhere," John replied. "And I trust you Evan. Do what you have to do."

"Thank you Sir," Lorne looked at Rodney first, trying to decide how best to get the other man to leave the room. "If Colonel Sheppard is going to be in the control room alone, don't you think you should go up there, make sure he doesn't break anything?"

"Ah -," Rodney looked at Evan suspiciously and then grimaced. "As a method for getting me to leave you alone here that pretty much sucked Major but ... since I can't do anything down here, maybe I can find some way to help from up there."

"Thank you Rodney," Evan said sincerely. Rodney nodded, cast Prue a curious glance and then turned and hurried away.

"You need to go too," Evan told Prue determinedly.

"No I don't," Prue shot back, "and I don't see how you can make me – unless you want to risk losing control of the shield," she nodded to where he'd kept physical contact with the console.

"Just once," Lorne growled, glaring at her, "just once it would be nice if you could do what I say!"

"Not today," Prue moved forward, standing next to him. "Do it Evan ... now, before you get too weak."

"Fine," Lorne said tersely. Turning away he closed his eyes, focussing internally. All the hours he'd spent practicing – constructing pictures in his head and imagining the city doing what he wanted, getting to know what each system on Atlantis and on the Orion felt like – were about to pay off. He saw the shield in his mind – light and power cupping the city from above, protecting it. And he felt the darkness pushing inwards, hitting the shield at random points in an effort to break through. With any luck they'd be so focussed on breaching the shield they wouldn't notice his actions until it was too late.

Starting at the edges he stealthily drew the shield downwards, under the water, expanding it while keeping it protectively over the city. Once he judged it large enough to do what he needed he paused. It was going to require speed and force ... and probably most of what he had left in reserve – and it still wouldn't be over. "No time like the present," he thought grimly.

With one burst of thought he flipped the shield, turned what was concave into something convex, taking advantage of the device being more than just a standard shield, capable of projecting outwards from as much as it was around an object. The edges he'd grown slammed into place to join above the dark cloud until he had the shield entirely around the entities. And then he shrank the sphere until it clasped the cloud tightly.

Staggering, his heart pounding, Lorne opened his eyes, his gaze locking with Prue's.

"Evan," she moved forward to brace him.

"I'm okay!" he insisted. "Prue ... I need you to leave now, okay? I don't want you to see -."

"See you kill yourself?" Prue cried, tears rising in her eyes. "No Evan. It shouldn't be easy letting someone you ... love ... die." She swallowed hard, tears falling down her cheeks.

"Don't make this harder than it has to be," Evan pleaded. "Please, just go. I can't hold this for much longer."

"Then do what you have to do," Prue said sadly, staying where she was.

Lorne wanted to protest further but he couldn't afford the time. Every moment he was weakening and he knew that if he didn't act now he'd fail. Giving her a tortured look he closed his eyes to her grief, focussing back on the shield and the darkness he had contained inside. He shouldn't be able to do what he was going to do next but he knew instinctively that he could.

Moving position he kept one hand on the console and reached out towards the barrier guarding the ZPM's. When his fingers brushed the surface of that barrier a spark of energy shot up his arm like an electric shock. Groaning at the pain burning through his system, Lorne gathered his mental strength and made a final demand of the city. "Lower the barrier ... now!"

The blue curtain of energy dropped abruptly. As he'd hoped, once the protective barrier was gone the true nature of the device came into play. Because it wasn't a shield – it was a means of opening another plane of existence and gathering energy from it. The shield was just the means of containing that energy. Now all he had to do was activate the other components of the device and ...

The result was explosive. Above Atlantis, around the cloud Lorne had contained, the air itself seemed to waver in and out of existence. At the weakest point the shielded Ascended touched directly against that other plane – instantly the ball of energy snapped out of their plane and into that other place, taking the ascended bad guys with it. There was a flash of bright light and then everything was calm, the breach between planes closed.

Inside the shield room, Lorne was still connected through the device. When the shield disappeared the remaining power of the ZPM's shot from the power cells, uncontained with the protective barrier gone.

"Evan!" Prue screamed, throwing herself between him and the ZPM's. A bolt of power struck her chest, the force slamming into Evan's chest, hurtling him to the floor.

A different kind of darkness was crashing over Evan now but he still had one thing left to do – he had to shut down the device, before another connection was formed between theirs and another plane of existence – one they no longer had the power to close. "Off! Shut it down!" he yelled inside his mind, ignoring the pain and the dread and the fear because he couldn't feel anything – not himself, not Prue, nothing. "Shut it down now!"

There was a massive flash of light and a burst of noise like he'd never heard before. When the dust cleared, the room was in silence. All that remained to mark the event were three depleted ZPM's, a blackened console, and the unconscious form of Major Evan Lorne.

 

Chapter 41: Earth

"Major Lorne," the gentle voice broke through, calling Evan back to himself. "Evan?"

Lorne's eyes snapped open, his senses taking in everything in seconds. The city greeted him with mental static so low in tone it was barely there. The why of that was stark, memory rushing back, the heart monitor beeping rapidly in time with his anxiety. "Prue?"

"I'm sorry Evan," Jennifer said gently.

"You're sorry?" Lorne felt himself trembling as her meaning hit him. "Where is she?" He struggled to sit up, pulling at the leads and tubes connected to him. "I want to see her!"

"Evan," Jennifer put a calming hand on his chest, pushing him back to the bed too easily. "I know this is difficult but there's nothing for you to see. She's gone."

"Gone?" He felt numb ... and so damned tired he just wanted to close his eyes and sleep until this nightmare faded away. "I don't ..., what? Jenn?"

"Oh God," Jennifer sniffed back her tears, clutching his hand. "Rodney said there was an enormous power overload – like lightning. It must have struck Prue head on." She squeezed his hand tightly as she finished it. "When we got there all we found was you, unconscious on the floor."

"Fidesia," Lorne clung to hope grimly. "She must have taken Prue away before she -,"

"No," Jennifer interrupted. "There was ... evidence. That much power Evan ... the human body isn't designed to withstand so much heat and ..."

Evan heard what she was unwilling to say. Prue had stepped in front of him and taken his place – suffered his fate. She'd been incinerated until she was nothing more than a black scorch mark on the floor. With a low groan he turned his face away, staring bleakly at the wall.

"I know it's probably very little comfort right now but you saved all of us Evan, you and Prue," Jennifer explained gently. "It will take time for you to recover, physically and mentally ... Carson recommended sending you back to Earth and Doctor Weir agreed. They're moving you first thing tomorrow."

"Fine," Lorne muttered. He didn't care where he was ... everything he was and everything he'd lost would follow him.

"I'm sorry Evan," Jennifer said again, laying a comforting hand on his back. "Try to get some rest," she added before leaving him alone.

Evan closed his eyes tiredly, grateful when sleep claimed him.

oOo

Carson came to see him the next morning, examining him with calm efficiency as he gave Lorne a run down on his condition. That's when he found out he'd been unconscious for days, unresponsive but for the high level of brain activity Carson said he'd exhibited. Evan had no recollection of anything – dreams or otherwise – and wondered what he'd been thinking all that time.

"You have second degree burns on your right arm, across your chest and on both hands," Carson began. "Even indirectly your system took a jolt - that and the effort you expended to control that device drained you to the point of extreme exhaustion. It'll take you a while to recover Lad," he admitted openly. "Your treatment will continue at the SGC and you should suffer no lasting effects. Initially I was concerned there might be internal damage, particularly to your heart, but everything appears to be in order. A week or so of complete rest plus the full course of burn treatments and you should be physically fit to return to duty."

"Thanks Doc," Lorne said. He tried to feel grateful that he hadn't been badly injured but the price for his well being was too high. The dark pit of emotion inside him threatened to surge up and swamp his control.

"I'm sorry for your loss lad," Carson said softly. "I know you and Prue had issues -,"

"Don't," Lorne pleaded. "Not now Carson, okay." He couldn't handle an expression of sympathy and he sure as hell wasn't ready to hear anyone talking about Prue in past tense.

Carson looked at Evan, compassion shining from his eyes. "Of course Major," he nodded understandingly. "But you should talk to someone about this ... when you're ready."

Evan didn't trust himself to speak without revealing just how close to the edge he was. Instead he nodded his head, holding himself stiffly while Carson continued to watch him, his concern evident.

"You have people waiting to see you lad – your team, Laura, and a few others - if you feel up to it," he offered.

"I don't want to see anyone," Lorne said dismissively. "Tell them whatever you have to Doc. Just keep them away."

"Very well," Carson frowned. "I'll leave you to get some rest then Major. Nurse Hardy will be with you in about an hour to help get you ready to return to Earth."

"Thanks Doc," Lorne turned his attention back to the ceiling, his thoughts circling things he wasn't ready to contemplate. He knew he couldn't avoid everyone, not indefinitely. He just needed to be steadier inside – then he'd be able to handle it.

One person he couldn't avoid was Colonel Sheppard ... it didn't surprise him to see his CO walking through the door a few minutes later.

"I know Carson said you weren't up to seeing anyone but I kind of thought maybe he was being too cautious," John said blandly, not calling Lorne up on the lie. They both knew Evan had told Carson he didn't want to talk to anyone.

"Sir," military protocol and the chain of command were too ingrained for Evan not to respond, even though a part of him wanted to plead with Sheppard to just leave him to his misery.

"Listen, Rodney couldn't confirm what happened to that cloud after you made it disappear, but there weren't any traces that he could pick up," Sheppard offered. "It'd be nice if the Ancients could give us some kind of confirmation that this other group of ascended beings is no longer a threat, but I guess that'd be asking for too much."

"They have what they wanted," Lorne said in a low tone, eyes on where his hands clutched the sheets beside him.

"The threat to the city was real," Sheppard pointed out.

"I'm sure it was, but who's to say them picking us as a target wasn't premeditated? The Ascended manipulated us," Lorne said grimly. "Because they wanted me to operate that device and they wanted Prue to have a reason to sacrifice herself so I'd still be around to switch if off once we were done." He swallowed hard, still unwilling to contemplate the fact that she was gone.

"I'm sorry Evan," John said after the silence stretched between them uncomfortably. "I don't know what I can say that would make this any easier for you."

"Nothing," Lorne ground out. "There's nothing anyone can say." He looked at John, his eyes too blue in the paleness of his face. "I never told her I'd forgiven her," he said hoarsely. "I should have but ...," he looked away, struggling to keep himself from trembling.

"She knew you pretty well," John stood, clasping Lorne's forearm firmly in support. "I don't think anyone on base expected you'd hold a grudge for very long, least of all her."

It was too much – the support and the understanding and the fact that he could see John was personally upset over what had happened to him and to Prue. "Sorry Sir," Evan fell back on bland formality. "I guess I'm weaker than I realised ... I apologise for my outburst."

"Evan," Sheppard protested. "It was hardly an outburst and even if it was, under the circumstances no one would blame you."

He blamed himself. He should have made Prue leave before he flipped the shield – then she'd still be alive. "And you'd be dead," his rational side piped up. Lorne refused to look at Sheppard, keeping his expression as emotionless as he could, praying that the Colonel would give up on him, at least for the time being.

Sheppard sighed. "Okay, we won't talk about this now," he conceded. "It can wait until they clear you to return to duty. Take some leave Evan – give yourself a chance to recover. And don't even think about putting in a transfer request – we need you here on Atlantis."

"Yes Sir," Lorne acknowledged in a low tone.

"It wasn't your fault," John said in parting, waiting a few moments more before letting Evan get away with his silence.

"If that's true, why the hell does it feel like it was," he thought angrily.

oOo

Leaving Atlantis was a relief. To achieve it he had to sit in a wheelchair as Jennifer pushed him from the infirmary to the gate room. And he had to face some of those people he'd refused to talk to.

"Sir," Nate Coughlin stood resolutely between Lorne and his escape, Reed, Cheung and Parish all ranged out behind him.

"Sergeant," Evan replied expressionlessly. He looked at his second, let himself see through the other man's expression what Nate wanted to tell him. That his team cared about Prue and grieved for her too, grieved for what they knew Lorne had lost. That they were glad their CO was alive. Slumping a little, Evan ran a hand through his hair. "It's okay Nate," he said.

"No, it's not!" Nate returned heatedly. "And maybe it won't be for a while, but me and the boys are here if you need us. We'll be here when you get back."

"Thanks," Lorne nodded, glad when Nate stepped back because he was one step closer to being amongst people who didn't know him nearly as well.

"Do what Doctor Lam tells you lad," Carson stepped forward, leaning closer so he could look Evan in the eye. "No pretending this time."

"Right," Evan agreed quickly. "Sure thing Doc."

Colonel Sheppard strode into the mix, waving people aside and giving Lorne some space. "Dial it up Chuck," he ordered, looking up at the control room.

The gate started to spin ... Lorne watched as each chevron quickly locked into place, urging the wormhole to just form already.

"We'll see you in a few weeks Major," Sheppard said firmly.

"Yes Sir," Lorne took over the operation of the wheel chair, pushing himself through the event horizon.

The relief he felt when he emerged on the other side saddened him because he'd never been glad to leave Atlantis before – but he couldn't deny how welcome the silence, inside and out, was. It was late at the SGC and personnel in the Gateroom was minimal – just two armed sentries and one waiting orderly who competently took over the wheelchair.

A few minutes later Evan was settled into a bed in the infirmary and it was all too easy to let the nothingness of sleep take over.

oOo

Thankfully Daniel, along with the rest of SG-1, were off world for a few days at least. With any luck Evan would be on leave before they returned. That sounded bad but the last thing Lorne wanted was to talk about Prue with someone whose own past made him uniquely qualified to understand. Evan didn't want someone telling him it would get easier – he didn't want it easier.

He did what Doctor Lam and her staff told him to do – all with a lack of emotion and very little conversation beyond the barest minimum. He wasn't uncommunicative or discourteous – he just didn't volunteer anything of himself.

"Well Major, I'd say you're ready to be released," Doctor Lam finally told him a week after his arrival. "General Landry tells me you've been granted some personal leave."

"Yes Ma'am," Evan confirmed.

"Unfortunately with the Daedalus on its way back from Atlantis and the Odyssey out on a mission you'll have to make do with travelling the slow way," Caroline told him with a smile.

"I don't mind," Lorne replied.

"Okay, well I'll let you get dressed and then we can sign your release papers and you'll be free to go," Lam hesitated for a moment and then continued. "I hope you're not planning to return to work without having spoken to someone about what you went through Major," she said firmly. "This isn't something you can just brush under the carpet – and I know how hard you've been trying to do just that."

Lorne said nothing, looking down at his bed sheets.

Caroline sighed. "You'll have to pass a medical, including a psych evaluation before I can sign off on returning you to active duty Major. I'm sorry but ...,"

"Its standard procedure," Lorne broke in. "I understand Doctor Lam."

"Okay ... well, let's get you on your way then," Caroline said, pulling the curtain around his bed closed to give him some privacy.

Lorne sat in the bed for a few moments, thinking about nothing in particular. And then he got up and slowly got dressed.

oOo

Deciding where to take his leave had been difficult and for more than a day he'd seriously considered going somewhere no one knew him. But at the end of the day what he really wanted was to get away from himself and there was nowhere he could go to achieve that, so he gave up the idea.

He couldn't call, not while he was on base – didn't want to have to explain anything over the phone. And so he turned up on Elaine's doorstep much as he had months before.

"Evan!" Elaine smiled when she opened the door to see her brother on the other side, but that dropped away as soon as she got a good look at him. "Come in," she said, gently taking his arm and leading him inside.

"I promise I'll tell you what I can before I go," Evan said as soon as they were sitting at her kitchen table. "But can we just talk about nothing important for now?"

"Of course," Elaine put her hand carefully over his, mindful of the bandages he still wore. "Did I mention in my last message what the art teacher we've been taking Jon to said?"

"No, you didn't," Evan raised as much of a smile as he was capable of right then. "Tell me."

oOo

He got tired only a few hours after he'd arrived – before Drew and the boys were back from where they'd gone for the day. Elaine put him in her guest room, tucking him in and smoothing his hair back like he was one of her boys.

"It'll be okay Evan," she said softly.

"No, it won't," he said hoarsely. "It won't." With a sigh he turned over, burying his face in the pillow, tired enough that he fell asleep moments later.

Elaine sat with him, watching over him as best she could, although clearly too late to stop him from hurting. When she heard the sounds of Drew and her sons returning she hurried from the room, carefully closing the door behind her.

"Evan's here," she said as she walked in, gathering Jon and Matty up in a welcome home hug. "Go and play in your room," she told them. "Quietly okay – your Uncle is sleeping."

"Is Uncle Evan okay Mommy?" Jon asked, the idea that his Uncle would go to bed voluntarily so early obviously difficult to understand.

"He's fine honey," Elaine reassured. "We just need to give him a chance to rest okay?"

"Okay," Jon agreed. "Come on Matty," he grabbed his little brother's hand. "Let's go look at some books."

"He's a good boy," Elaine said, watching her boys tiptoeing down the hallway past the guest room.

"Yeah, most of the time," Drew agreed. Drawing his wife into his arms he hugged her tight. "Tell me," he said softly.

"I don't know," Elaine replied. "Something happened – bad enough that he thinks it will never be okay. Oh Drew," she cried abruptly. "He's hurt but it's not just what physical injuries I could see. He looked so sad!"

"All we can do it give him somewhere to rest and recover, someone to talk to when he's ready," Drew said simply.

"I know, I just ... you didn't see him Drew," Elaine sighed. "I've never seen him like that, not even when I followed him to Russia. Not since Dad died."

"You're thinking something happened to his Prue, aren't you?" Drew frowned.

"I hope I'm wrong," Elaine replied, "but yes. I can't think what else would have him looking so broken."

"Damn," Drew muttered.

"Being here will help," Elaine said softly. "He loves the boys ... and they'll smother him with affection like they always do."

"Are you going to call your Mom?"

"If he wants me to," Elaine shook her head, "although if I'm right, that will be why he came here instead of going to her."

"I guess so," Drew pulled her forward again, hugging her close. "We'll handle it, okay," he said, resting his head against hers.

"Mom, can we have a glass of water?" Jon stood in the doorway, watching his parents curiously.

"Of course honey," Elaine gave her husband a quick kiss before pulling away to take care of her children.

oOo

Evan woke abruptly in the middle of the night and for a moment didn't know where he was. Until he rolled and the painful stretching of healing skin on his chest reminded him.

"God," he rolled onto his back, staring up at the ceiling. The house was quiet and it was only necessity that propelled him from the bed and down the hall on silent feet.

Instead of going back to bed he went to the living room, where the open blind would let him see the sun rise. And then he just sat and let himself feel ... he hadn't cried, wasn't sure he had it in him to let his grief out that easily. Wasn't sure he even had the right since he'd refused to be with Prue once her betrayal had been revealed. He couldn't bear to think that in her last day she'd believed he wouldn't forgive her.

The sky lightened by degrees as the sun rose behind houses before it got high enough for the brightness to stab into his eyes.

"Uncle Evan!" Jon's excited voice greeted him, the young boy throwing himself into Evan's arms with no warning.

Evan grabbed him close, holding on tight, not caring that it hurt his injuries. "It's good to see you kiddo," he murmured.

"Mommy said you was tired," Jon reared back, his eyes going wide when he spotted the dark pink of healing skin on his Uncle's face and arms. "Did you get hurted?"

"I did," Evan said simply. "But I'm much better now okay." It was true – something about being with his family helped him to construct a more believable barrier between the Evan from Atlantis and the one his nephews knew.

"We'll look after you too," Jon promised. "You can stay until you is all better."

"I'd like that." Evan smiled, the first genuine smile in two weeks. "Now, what are you doing up so early young man?"

"Daddy said we had to wait until you woked up but I was too excited," Jon admitted, giving Evan a winning smile that declared he didn't think his Uncle would tell on him for something so harmless. "You wasn't in your room."

"Well, I went to bed so early last night that I was all done with sleeping," Evan settled the boy on his lap. "How about you sit and tell me what you've been up to lately?"

"Okay," Jon rested his head on his Uncle's chest and launched into a rambling explanation about things that could only be important to a three and a half year old.

Evan listened, and felt a small measure of peace.

oOo

And so it went for the next few days. Evan stayed in his sister's house, playing with the boys, his outward wounds healing until only the patches of pink skin remained as evidence of what he'd gone through. He didn't feel any calmer though – in fact, finding that emotionless facade was proving more difficult than it had ever been. This was exactly why he'd avoided giving his heart to anyone for so long – because losing someone you loved hurt so much that some days he seriously thought the pain would get the better of him.

The unanswered questions haunted him as much a Prue's fate. How could she have known that she was originally from Occulus but not have realised the significance of its native flower being given to him? And given how much of his own knowledge base they'd used to furnish her with a believable background, how much of Prue was her and how much an echo of having that base? She'd expressed genuine regret over SG-6 and in particular Colonel Barnes – like she really had served at the SGC and gotten to know him. Because Evan had served there and worked with Barnes. Was that why he'd been so drawn to her from the beginning, because he'd recognised her somehow?

Was any of it real?

He had doubts about his own actions too, about what he'd believed and the consequences. What had that prophesy from P88-013 said? Only with the ultimate sacrifice will right prevail. Had it been arrogance on his part to believe that because the first part of the prophesy was about him, the entirety must also refer to him too? Because he'd never considered that someone else would be the one to make that sacrifice - if he had would Prue be alive now? If he'd believed in what the prophesy was trying to tell them instead of denying that something carved so long ago could even be about him, would it have changed anything? Had there been another way, a path less desperate than the one he'd put himself on, that could have still resulted in the threat being eliminated?

Was it all his fault because he'd only stepped up at the very end, when his hand had been forced?

The trouble with questions was that instead of answers they just spawned more questions - the not knowing was driving him crazy. That and the pit of grief he couldn't find a way to express made Evan someone even he didn't want to be around ...

oOo

When he woke up abruptly in the middle of the night a few days later – as he had every night since he'd arrived – dreaming that Prue was calling out for him to save her, Evan realised that he had to go back. He wouldn't feel any kind of closure, wouldn't be able to believe she really was gone until he was back on Atlantis. Running the dates in his head he worked out that the Daedalus would be leaving in two days time – he'd have to hurry if he had any hope of being cleared to travel back on her.

Elaine was up before everyone else, finding Evan sitting at the table, his packed bag sitting at his feet.

"You're leaving?" she asked, dismayed.

"Ah – yeah, I have to Sis," Evan admitted. "I know I said I'd tell you what I could – and I will – just not this visit. There are things I need to resolve and I realised this morning that I can't do that here."

"You're sure?" Elaine touched a hand to his, waiting until he met her eyes. "I can see how much you're hurting Evan. If I can see it, others will too."

"I know," Evan sighed, turning his hand over and clasping hers lightly. "But staying here is just running away Lainee – and that's not me either. It's time I started acting like myself again."

"Don't retreat back into that world where you don't even entertain the possibility of love," Elaine pleaded. "I know – I can't imagine what it is you've gone through. I just know it would be wrong to ignore what you gained just because it ended badly."

"There's badly and then there's this," Lorne said harshly, regretting the tone immediately. "I'm not myself," he said again. "And I need to get that back first. Then I'll think about what you said, okay?"

"Okay," Elaine agreed softly.

"Thank you for letting me stay here with no questions asked," Evan said earnestly. "You don't know how much it helped Elaine."

"I feel like we're sending you back the way you came," Elaine admitted. "I wanted to do more."

"It's not that simple, and this was exactly what I needed," Evan countered. "Tell Drew I'll email him soon."

"You're not staying to say goodbye?" Elaine asked, surprised.

"No," Evan shook his head. "I stopped in with Jon and Matty before I came out here – they know I'm leaving but I told them I'd see them as soon as I could manage it."

"Well then," Elaine stood up. "Give me a hug big brother."

Evan stood too, hugging his sister tightly enough that her heart ached for him anew. When he stepped back his eyes were too bright. "Love you," he got out, grabbing up his bag and hurrying from the room. When the front door clicked shut Elaine sank back to her chair, tears brimming because she feared it would be a long time before Evan came back.

 

Chapter 42: Atlantis

Back in Colorado Springs Evan quickly initiated all the tests he'd need to pass to get himself on the Daedalus. Time enough on the long trip home to contemplate how he was going to handle himself when they got back to Atlantis.

The medical was easy enough – his burns had all healed and he'd had enough rest not to look like a stiff wind would blow him over. With no other damage he passed with flying colours. Submitting to a psych eval that included having to sit down and talk with the base psychologist about his experiences was beyond difficult. He tried to be honest while at the same time giving the man enough progress that he'd conclude that Evan was strong enough to be allowed back to 'the scene of the crime'.

That turned out to be easy as well – no one expected him to have gotten over his loss and the fact that he was willing to admit to it seemed to be enough. Lorne explained that he needed to return to Atlantis so that he could put the events into perspective and the shrink actually congratulated him on his courage. If he only knew what Lorne was really thinking!

The following day General Landry wished Lorne well before ordering the Daedalus crewman to beam Evan up to the ship.

"Sir," Cadman's voice had him looking around abruptly.

"Lieutenant," Lorne returned formally, not inviting further questioning. Part of him was glad to see Laura but he just didn't have it in him to answer the question he could see she wanted to ask.

"I didn't expect to see you back so soon Sir," Laura fell into step beside him as he headed for his assigned quarters. Technically he was still on leave, and while normally he'd have reported for some kind of duty anyway, this time he intended to stay out of the public eye as much as possible.

"I heal quickly," he dismissed. Arriving at his door, he turned back to Cadman. "I don't mean to be rude Lieutenant but -,"

"But you don't want to socialise right now," Laura finished for him. "I understand Sir. I really just wanted to say it's good to see you up and about."

"Thank you Lieutenant," Lorne inclined his head before opening his door and disappearing inside.

oOo

"You're a hard man to find," Colonel Caldwell's voice drew Lorne's attention away from the view outside the Mess window.

"Sir?" he queried, frowning.

"You haven't been seen around the ship since you beamed up a week ago," Stephen clarified, sitting down opposite Lorne. "Not hiding are we Major?"

"Every chance I get Sir," Evan said honestly.

"Too much sympathy?" Caldwell suggested.

"Pity, sympathy, whatever you want to call it Sir," Lorne agreed. "I don't need people to tell me they're sorry about what happened."

"Then I'll refrain from doing so," the Colonel replied with a faint smile. "You let me know if there's anything I can do for you son," he said, getting up again.

"Approving my return to Atlantis was more than enough Sir," Evan replied, knowing full well that if Caldwell hadn't thought he was ready, no amount of approval from the doctors would have gotten him on board.

"You deserve to face your demons Major," Stephen said simply. "Like I said, if there's anything I can do to ease the way, just say the word."

"I appreciate that Sir," Lorne said, meaning it.

"And don't worry Lorne," Caldwell smiled. "I won't tell anyone you take your meals so late."

"Thank you Sir," Evan watched the Daedalus commander go, bemused. He'd been offered support from a number of quarters but most of it had rankled. After all those days on the Hive ship Lorne appreciated Caldwell's up front, by the book manner – he was genuine and right now that was a quality Evan rated highly.

oOo

After sixteen days in space the Daedalus landed on the dock on Atlantis. Lorne waited until everyone had disembarked before making his own way off the ship and so was surprised when Colonel Sheppard stepped from the shadows to greet him.

"Welcome back Major," John said casually.

"Thank you Sir," Lorne returned. "I'm looking forward to getting back on duty," he added, making his intentions clear.

"Let's hold off until Carson adds his own approval to that," Sheppard countered, making his own intentions equally clear. Evan might have gotten back to the city by bluffing his way through the standard questions, but he wasn't going to be able to fool the people who knew him in the same way.

"Yes Sir," Lorne said reluctantly.

"How was Earth?" Sheppard asked conversationally, the two men making their way down the dock towards the centre of the city.

"It was fine Sir," Lorne replied. "Surprisingly quiet at the SGC ... mostly because SG-1 were off world the whole time I was there."

"They get into trouble much more frequently than my team," John suggested.

"If you say so Sir," Evan said blandly.

"I do," Sheppard insisted. He fell silent for a moment and then sighed. "Look, I know you don't want to hear this but if you need anything – more time, someone to spar with or yell at – you ask me, okay."

"Ah ... okay," Lorne replied awkwardly. "I really am okay Sir."

"You might get away with that with most people Evan," John said pointedly, "but you're talking to a master here. I can recognise someone who's bailing out a sinking boat better than most."

"Then what do you want from me, Sir?" Evan stopped, folding his arms over his chest as he confronted his CO.

"Some honestly wouldn't go astray," Sheppard stopped too, more comfortable with the turn of the conversation than Lorne would have given him credit for.

"Fine," Evan paced away and then turned back. "I hurried to get back here because I couldn't believe Prue was really gone. The whole time I was back on Earth all I could hear was her calling for me to save her. Only I didn't, did I? She saved me and that's just unacceptable – but I didn't get a choice and that annoys the hell out of me. Everything annoys me, including this conversation, so respectfully Sir, I'd appreciate it if everyone would just leave me the hell alone and let me do my job."

Lorne was breathing hard by the time he was done, sure he was about to get a reprimand for insubordination, but Sheppard just grinned, slapping a hand to Evan's shoulder. "See, that wasn't so hard, was it?" John asked.

"Ah ...," Evan didn't know what to say.

"I can't do anything about most of that aside from telling everyone to lay off the questions and offers of help," Sheppard offered. "How does that sound?"

"It sounds good," Evan admitted.

"Okay," Sheppard's expression grew serious. "But you tell me – personally – if that sinking boat thing starts getting out of control. No arguments Evan."

Evan hesitated and then nodded wordlessly.

"Good to have you back," Sheppard said, getting them walking again.

Lorne didn't give the predictable rejoinder because he wasn't sure how he felt – it was right that he was back, but whether it turned out to be good still wasn't clear.

oOo

He looked for some sign that his dreams of Prue calling to him were more than just his imagination working overtime, and found nothing. Confronting the shield room where she'd given up everything to save him was harder than he'd imagined, but even there he found no lingering trace of her. Nothing to say that she'd even existed at all, beyond his memories.

Carson approved him for restricted duty, which basically meant he could undertake all his on base duties but wouldn't get to go off world until he could prove that he wasn't about to lose it in front of their allies. He didn't mind because being in the city was what he needed most. He had to find a way to block off his more negative emotions from the city though – the feedback he got from the systems reading him got more and more insistent, like Atlantis itself wanted to fix him. There was an irony there – that he could hide what was going on in his head from his team, from his friends, but not from a collection of systems that could read him from the inside out.

They came to an uneasy truce, he and Atlantis, where the 'let me fix you' static was kept at a minimum as long as he could control the more violent of his emotions.

"Please," Lorne thought at large a couple of days after he got back. He still felt a little ridiculous talking to something that couldn't talk back, not in words ... and doing anything with his gene just screamed 'Prue', all the hours he'd spent in her lab practicing coming back to him in a host of memories that hurt like everything hurt these days.

The static feedback got a little sharper, insistent. His interpretation of that was that his emotions were too loud, that he was disturbing the city.

"I'll tone it down," he promised, concentrating hard to do just that. He wasn't sure how successful he was but the static from the city immediately settled back into normal too. It seemed that trying was good enough, for now.

Within days of his return everyone was treating him as they had before, either because Colonel Sheppard had ordered them to or because Lorne's own behaviour gave them no other choice. He avoided situations that gave anyone an opening to question him, ignoring the worried looks he was getting from Nate, Dan, and Jennifer.

It was all about pretending everything was normal because if he did that eventually the pretense would turn into reality. But instead of things getting better, every day that passed they only got worse. Evan struggled to accept the fate he'd been dealt but couldn't find it within himself to do so. Prue was gone and he tried to be philosophical about it but he-just-couldn't-do-it.

He felt haunted by her – in his quarters, on the balconies, in the mess hall, all those times of the day when he was most accustomed to being with Prue. Everything had him thinking about her and it became unbearable. Something had to give – soon, because he couldn't live with the inside version of Evan Lorne ... it was as simple as that. He went from trying to accept her death to looking for reasons to believe she wasn't gone, not completely, that there was a way he could communicate with her, if for no other reason than to tell her he had forgiven her, that he'd never stopped loving her.

Somewhere within his deluded mind he convinced himself that Fidesia at least wouldn't have let Prue just die like that, not if she could save her. And if Prue had ascended - and let's face it, someone who'd sacrificed their past, present and future to save the ascended Ancients deserved another chance at ascension - then she should be able to talk to him. Wouldn't the others allow it, given what he'd done for them?

That was his theory anyway, and as the days continued to just go by, it was the only thing that was keeping him going, that gave him a reason to drag his sorry hide out of bed every morning. Of course he didn't do anything about his theory because if he went to the hologram room and Prue wasn't there, or worse if Fidesia showed up and crushed his hope with a truth he didn't want to hear ... well then, what would he have left?

Lorne finally caved two weeks after his return to Atlantis. He'd tossed and turned for hours, driving himself crazy with the what-if thoughts until around 3am, when he couldn't stand it anymore.

The hologram room was dark and still ... and dead. When he stepped up to the dais nothing happened. No image of Morgan appeared ... no image of anyone else either. It was as though as soon as the Ancients had their future sorted they'd pulled the plug on Atlantis and the tools they'd used to get what they wanted.

"Prue!"

He yelled it, so that his voice echoed off the walls. Putting his hands on the console he quickly tapped into the core of the Atlantis systems. "Prue! He screamed it mentally, feeling the reverberations growing as the pulse of his tormented thoughts travelled out from the hologram room, creating ripples of discordant static through every system.

"Prue," he whispered it, aloud and in his head.

And still it was silent.

Backing away from the console until he hit the wall, Evan slid slowly down until he was sitting on the floor. And then he put his head on his knees and wept as he'd been unable to do before. Harsh sounds of pain ripped from his throat until he was raw and still it wasn't enough ... the gaping hole Prue had left inside him was like a chasm that would eventually swallow him whole. Right then he wanted nothing more than the oblivion it would provide.

Time passed but he wasn't aware of it ... he'd shifted from explosive grief to a numb unreality, his eyes unseeing.

A breeze, faint and smelling of those damned purple flowers wafted over his face ... at first he didn't feel it but when he realised what he was sensing he was up on his feet, moving to the console.

"Prue?" His voice was hoarse, barely audible.

"Evan Lorne," Morgan shimmered into being, powered only by her essence, the pretence that she was part of Atlantis no longer required. Moving closer she surrounded him with blinding white light, her expression compassionate.

"NO!" Evan leapt out of her light, stumbling against the wall before righting himself. Holding his hands out to ward her off he spoke again. "No! If you're thinking to take away this pain then forget it!"

"Your grief is affecting the city Evan," Morgan said gently.

"So what?" Evan shot back harshly. "At this point I couldn't care less what happens to your damned city!"

"That is not true," Morgan shifted closer but was careful not to touch him. She regarded him for a moment, like he was some kind of bug under a microscope. "I can help you feel better Evan. Why would you not want me to assist you in this way?"

"Because I don't want to feel better!" Evan laughed bitterly. "That'd be your way though right? Because god forbid someone should be so important that you'd want to remember them or feel destroyed because they aren't ... " he swallowed hard, tears rising suddenly. Clearing his throat he turned away. "Because they aren't there anymore," he finished hoarsely.

"You would prefer to remember Devia, to retain your feelings for her, even though it causes you so much pain?" Morgan asked.

"Prue! Her name is Prue!" Evan shot Morgan an angry glare. "I don't care what she was before or what you did to make her who she was when she first came here. Everything she did after that, everything she tried to do to protect us and save your sorry asses was all her ... all Prudence Darnell."

"You have forgiven her subterfuge, her unwillingness to tell you the truth?" Morgan asked curiously. "Despite how angry it made you to find she was not what you believed her to be?"

"Yeah, I forgave her, about five seconds after I told her I couldn't deal with it," Lorne shook his head. "I thought there'd be time to work it all out. I was angry, and not only because she didn't tell me the full truth - it was why she didn't tell me that really got to me."

"Why?" Morgan repeated.

"She was protecting me!" Evan ran a hand through his hair, agitated. "That's what makes me want to tell you and your ascended friends to leave us the fuck alone! I mean, what gives you the right to manipulate us like that?" He laughed harshly. "The worst part is that I did it to myself. You read me like an open book, didn't you? All those times I came here to consult the hologram you were working out what kind of man I was. You used that when you made Prue come here, when you gave her a background, took away some of her memories and gave her a history and a mission - you made her someone I'd feel connected to. You knew I'd fall in love with her and you drove her to defy you, to love me back, because you knew that would be the only thing that would make her do what had to be done. Even showing me Occulus, making sure I'd find out Prue's history, was about gaining my sympathy so I'd work with her. You used me and you used her."

"Devia chose herself for this task, just as the fates chose you," Morgan countered. "Some must be guided to their path ... as we guided you to yours by placing Ludo's pyramid on a world in your home galaxy. Our inclusion of a need within the genuine record of time created by our brothers was the only way to reveal you as the one who would save us."

"I did nothing," Lorne looked down at the ground, his vision blurring. Rubbing a hand over his eyes he shook his head. "It was Prue who saved you."

"It was the two of you together who did what no-one else could do," Morgan intoned. Her light brightened and she grew in stature to tower over him. "Were it not for you Evan Lorne, our brothers would have taken over this and your own galaxy, using your and every other race in both galaxies for their own amusements, unravelling the very fabric of creation."

"Yeah, well I'm not seeing that as a positive right now," Evan muttered. Looking up he met Morgan's eyes. "Look, just tell me one thing okay. Is Prue ... is she ... okay?"

"You would feel better if I am able to give an affirmative response?" Morgan asked curiously.

"I am never going to feel better," Evan said bitterly.

"Then why do you ask?"

"Because she did everything you wanted!" Evan slammed his palm against the wall, needing an outlet for his rage and his pain. "What the hell kind of recognition is it to sacrifice everything - not just who you are but your very existence - and get nothing back?"

"You would think it right if Devia was returned to her position amongst the ascended?" Morgan queried gently.

It hurt to do it but right then Prue's future was more important than him ... she deserved to exist, even if it was in a form that meant Evan would never see her again. "Yes, I think it's right. Prue did what you wanted ... she should get what she wants in return."

As soon as the words were spoken the grief rose up again, killing what little composure he'd been holding on to. Staggering against the wall Evan let himself drop back to the floor, leaning his head back against the wall, not giving a damn that tears were coursing silently down his face.

"Just go ... ," he whispered it, the bright lights of Morgan's presence a pain he didn't want to deal with. "Leave me be ...,"

The light shifted closer, brightened, and caressed him. "We find you worthy Evan Lorne," Morgan's voice was the chorus of many voices all in tandem.

"Good for me," Evan muttered ungraciously, eyes closed now. "If you want to do something for me, tell Prue ... Devia ... nothing changed the way I felt. Nothing will."

Lights flashed and the sound of a bell chiming a single note reverberated against the walls. Evan kept his eyes closed, hoping it was done. Talking to Morgan just reminded him of all the ways he'd succeeded in fucking up the best thing he'd ever had in his life. It had felt hopeless at the time but he should have found a way to stop Prue from -.

"Tell me yourself."

His eyes shot open, meeting brown ones he never thought he'd see again.

"Prue?" he whispered it, blinking. It was his Prue but it was Devia as well, in the clothes she wore and the way her hair fell in waves around her, no longer hidden tightly away. She looked like the woman Fidesia had shown him, someone who belonged with the likes of Fee and Morgan. "Are you ...?"

"Am I real?" Prue asked lightly. Moving gracefully she stood at his feet, looking down at him with affectionate exasperation. "I'm here Evan."

"Right," Lorne frowned, looking away. It was too cruel ... why would they let Prue ... no, Devia ... why would they let her visit him? Sure, he was glad to have proof that she had been saved, that she'd been allowed to ascend back to where she belonged, but did he really need to see the evidence? He'd wanted nothing more than to talk to Prue but now that he had what he wanted it felt more like a slap in the face, a mockery of his grief, and it made him angry as hell. Jumping to his feet he rounded on her, ignoring the way his heart leapt and his senses zinged because she was near. "Go join your ascended friends Devia," he said harshly. "Atlantis can manage with plain old flawed humans from now on."

"What have you done to yourself?" Prue ignored his words, stepping closer and putting a hand to his face. His eyes were red rimmed and every word out of his mouth rasped with the rawness he'd yelled into it.

"Don't," Evan jerked away. Her touch felt real ... breathe hitching he knew with sudden clarity that he had to get out of there or he was going to lose it entirely and never be able to put himself together again. Skirting around her he strode to the door.

"Don't what?" Prue asked gently, blocking his path. "Don't love you?"

"What the hell do you people want from me?" Evan yelled. He crowded her now but she let him, not moving an inch. "Isn't it enough that you're gone Prue, or did you need to stop by just to make sure I'm sufficiently broken? Do you want me to tell you that you going back to what you were is enough to have me quitting this place, quitting everything ... because I can't bear to see anything that reminds me of you?" He laughed bitterly. "Trouble is everything reminds me of you and there is nowhere I can hide to get away from that. The sooner you go back to ascended land, the sooner I can get back to finding out how far into despair I'm going to sink."

"Oh Evan," Prue's eyes filled with tears. "I'm so sorry."

"I don't need your fucking pity!" Lorne grabbed her upper arms and backed her into the wall, hard. She gave a gasp, but that only egged him on. "I just need you to go the fuck away ...," in counterpoint to his words he edged closer, plastering her against the wall with his body.

She felt real ... that was the kicker. Real flesh and blood, nothing ancienty about her. When she threaded her fingers through his hair and jerked his lips down to hers that felt pretty damn real too, enough that he was quickly consuming her as heatedly as he'd been yelling at her seconds before.

She moaned ... or maybe he did ... as his teeth scraped her bottom lip and he tasted blood ... and then it was heart stoppingly, hope beyond all measure, real.

"Prue?" He ripped his mouth away, eyes locked to hers. "You're really here?"

"That's what I've been trying to tell you, you idiot!" Prue smiled, watching him carefully. "You told Morgan to give me whatever I wanted - that it was what I deserved for what they put us through. They agreed."

"And you wanted ... this?" Evan frowned.

"I wanted you," Prue said with certainty. "A day without you isn't worth living, let alone forever. And in case that isn't clear enough, I would rather spend whatever time I have in a real life with you Evan Lorne, than spend eternity as an ascended being."

"Oh God," Evan trembled as the truth finally hit him. "You're back?" He wrapped his arms around her and picked her up, squeezing her too tightly. "You're back!" Spinning her, both laughing and crying at the same time, Lorne's euphoria was overwhelming. His emotions were so intense, so complex, that singling out any one facet of what he was feeling would have been impossible.

"I should have told you I forgave you," Evan set her back on her feet, kissing her gently. "I should have told you I understood that you did what you had to do," he continued, capturing her lips in another kiss that moved them into passion again. "I should have told you that I still loved you, even when I was angry as hell."

Prue smiled into the next kiss, even as she ran her hands over him and up under his shirt to feel the heat of his flesh. "I should have told you the whole thing the minute I remembered how much I loved you," she returned, pressing kisses to his neck and face.

"Damn, we're a pair, aren't we?" Evan laughed, setting her back on her feet so he could look at her. "I can't believe this is real," he admitted. He touched her hair lightly, his hand shaking with the emotions pounding through his heart.

"They wouldn't let me come to you," Prue leaned into his hand, her face tormented with the memory from her perspective. "Fidesia either. They blocked me completely Evan – I couldn't even confirm that you were alive, although Fidesia reassured me that you were. I know you have questions and I want to answer them all, the ones I have answers for anyway. But before we can do that we need to -,"

"Talk to Colonel Sheppard and Doctor Weir," Evan finished reluctantly. "I know. I just ... I need to hold you for a while first, okay?"

"More than okay," Prue agreed. Taking his hand she drew him from the hologram room and into the deserted corridor, not stopping until they came to the nearest balcony. She sat, urging him down beside her. And then she put her arms around him, snuggling close with her head over his heart.

And Evan finally felt whole again.

 

Chapter 43: Epilogue

"You look terrible," Prue leaned back to look up at him, her expression shifting to concerned. "Have you been sleeping at all?"

"Not really," Evan dismissed her concern, his eyes taking in all the details of her. "You, on the other hand, look incredible." He touched a hand to her hair, following it over her shoulder and down to the small of her back, smiling. "I like this."

"I wasn't deliberately hiding myself," she explained earnestly, "but I needed an exterior that matched what I thought I was here to do. And to be honest, most of that studiousness you saw is me."

"Oh I know," Evan said feelingly, chuckling when she narrowed her eyes at him. Sighing, he settled his head back against the wall. "The past two months have been ... tough," he admitted. "I don't want to tell you how close to the edge I was Prue ... to be honest I'm still wondering if I've finally lost it and this is all just my delusion."

"I'm so sorry Evan," Prue lifted a hand to his cheek, her light caress touching his heart. "If I'd had a choice I would have been with you. I would have done anything to spare you that kind of pain." Her eyes filled with tears and she looked away.

"Don't," Evan urged her to look at him. "Don't hide from me, and for god's sake don't cry – I don't think I can take that right now."

Prue nodded, gave him a watery smile.

"So you've been ...," he waved a hand vaguely.

"With Fidesia mostly," Prue grabbed his hand, holding it tightly. "The not knowing was disturbing in a way only a being that has the capacity for omnipotence can appreciate. I had no choice of course, even though I tried my best to defy all of them. The fact that they could block me so effectively, keep me where I didn't want to be, despite my having the full power of an ascended being, really proved why we needed to get rid of the others. We did the right thing," she told him with certainty. "If they had gained followers there wouldn't have been enough of the others to hold them back."

It was his turn to nod wordlessly ... now that she was with him he didn't want to talk about the moment when he'd lost her. Even though he knew it was something he would never forget.

They lapsed into silence for a few moments before Prue sighed. "So ... ask your questions," she invited.

"I don't know where to begin," Evan admitted. "And I don't have as many questions as you're anticipating. Fidesia showed me, Prue."

"Showed you what?" Prue frowned.

"Your thoughts, before you took on the role of watching out for me," Evan explained. Even though it hadn't been his idea, he felt a little uncomfortable admitting it – what he'd seen was private and he was sure she wouldn't have voluntarily revealed so much.

"Oh," Prue looked shocked for a moment but then she surprised him, laughing as she looked at him. "Well, that saves a lot of time, doesn't it?"

"Ah ... yeah, I guess it does," Evan agreed. "She showed me Occulus too. It was ... amazing, Prue."

"I know," Prue smiled wistfully. "It was worth sacrificing everything for. I'm glad I don't have to hide that anymore because it means I can share it with you, tell you about my family, the people ... everything."

"I'd really like that," Evan said simply.

More silence followed until it was Evan's turn to break it with a question. "How much of the Prue I knew was you?" he asked in a low tone. It had troubled him, wondering whether Morgan had conjured 'the perfect woman' for him after invading his thoughts.

"Pretty much all of it," Prue didn't take offence. Laughing she continued. "Yes I really am this stubborn and opinionated. The Ancients gave me a mission and at first I was driven to succeed, no matter who tried to get in my way. Aside from being convinced they'd taken me straight from Occulus, and that I couldn't tell anyone, their changes were minimal. All they really did was plant enough information in my head, about Earth and the SGC, so I didn't have to think about being convincing as someone who came from there."

"What about SG-6, Colonel Barnes?" Evan persisted. "You never met him and yet ..."

"And yet I told you I did, in as many words," Prue shrugged. "You were so upset Evan, I could see it as soon as I walked into the gym that day. You probably won't believe this but it took a lot less time for me to fall for you all over again than you'd guess. I was already struggling to hide my emotions by then – to stick to my mission – and I felt driven to help you. I knew Colonel Barnes through your having known him so it wasn't that much of a stretch. I'm sorry for the deception."

"It's okay," Evan took a deep breath and then let it out. "And at the time you helped."

"That was the first time you touched me," Prue said wistfully. "Do you remember?"

"Like it was yesterday," Evan returned, clearly recalling that surge of heat when he'd grabbed her wrist. "That wasn't because of the Ancient's was it?"

"No, that was all us," Prue smiled. "It was the first time I had this feeling of déjà vu," she told him. "Not like I'd been there exactly like that before, but that I knew you more than I possibly could, that things weren't quite how I thought they should be. It happened more and more the closer we got, but I couldn't talk to you about it, not without -"

"Not without revealing the truth," he finished.

"I really did think they'd just remove me and replace me with someone else if I talked," Prue said. "And in such a way that you would never even realise anything was different. It troubled me that you wouldn't remember I'd ever been there. Maybe it was selfish but I couldn't bear that."

"They really have that kind of power?" Evan queried.

"Yes," Prue sighed. "The power to do anything they can conceive. That's why one of them went back and created those columns on P88-013 and here. They made them impervious to being destroyed or amended - don't ask me how, I just know they can't be changed. Those columns will be there, exactly as they are, when everything else has turned to dust."

"They needed an independent record, a deterrent for changing events," Evan understood at once what she was saying. "Otherwise how would they ever be able to tell what was intended?" He didn't point out that things could have been changed before that record had been created - thinking about all the twists and turns of messing with time would just drive him crazy.

"Exactly," Prue agreed.

"So that means what happened with us was always meant to be," Evan smiled at the thought.

"I guess so," Prue smiled too. "What you did was incredible Evan," she said. "I don't think even the Ancients really expected you could defeat so many of their kind, that you'd put yourself in so much peril for something that seemed insurmountable. I won't say it's changed them but they will look at humans differently in the future."

"I had help," he reminded her, forever modest and unassuming. "I wouldn't be here right now were it not for you - not that I wasn't angry at the time when I realised what you'd done. But ... did either of us ever really have a choice?"

"No, not really."

They fell silent for a time before Lorne spoke again. "So you not wanting to go to Earth was just because you knew it would blow your cover?"

"Yes," Prue agreed. "The Ancients probably could have smoothed over any problems but with Doctor Jackson there, a former ascended, I just couldn't take the risk."

"Good, because I want you to meet my family," Evan declared. "My sister especially. I ah ... I went there, to grieve I guess. It helped a little but I left her worrying about me. I ... we need to fix that."

"I'd like that," Prue smiled softly. "If they'll let me."

"Ah, yes," Lorne took a deep breath, letting it out resolutely. "No time like the present to get the ball rolling." Standing, he tapped his ear piece, reaching down a hand to help her up.

"Lorne to Colonel Sheppard."

There was a pause and then John's voice, muffled with sleep. "Major. You do know what time it is, right?"

"Yes Sir, but this can't wait," Lorne replied.

There was another pause and then Sheppard responded. "Okay. What do you need?"

Evan smiled, knowing his CO was probably thinking that he'd finally lost it over Prue. The fact that John was willing to talk even though it was four am was kind of touching. "This is something you need to see for yourself Sir," he said. "I'm on the balcony just off the hologram room."

"I'll be there in five," Sheppard promised, closing off the channel.

"What do you think he'll say?" Prue asked, obviously feeling nervous.

"I honestly don't know," Evan admitted, putting his arm around her bracingly. "But I promise you, no matter what, it's you and me from now on Prue. We'll work this out somehow."

The tears that glistened in her eyes told him that he couldn't have said anything better to reassure her.

It didn't take long for Sheppard to arrive. "Major?" he halted at the balcony doors, incredulous, his gaze shifting from Prue to his 2IC in disbelief.

"I know Sir," Lorne moved forward, bringing Prue with him. "But I swear this is really Prue. I know there was evidence to say otherwise but Fidesia did save her ... and Morgan and the other ascended returned her."

"Why?" John asked bluntly.

It was a fair question. Lorne wasn't sure he really understood himself.

"Because Evan asked them to," Prue smiled when both men looked at her with matching expressions of surprise and disbelief. "I don't think you appreciate the magnitude of what Evan did for the ascended Colonel. He fixed a problem they've grappled with for millennia ... one man where hundreds with powers far greater have failed. For that I think he could have asked for anything, not that he would."

"No, the Major isn't one for grandstanding," John shot his 2IC an amused look, "or for owning up to half of what he's clearly capable of doing."

"I'm ah ... I did say I was sorry about that, right?" Evan looked at Sheppard hopefully.

"You did, more than once," John agreed. "So Lorne here asked Morgan to bring you back and she just said sure, why not? That doesn't strike you as something to worry about?" he asked Evan.

"Yes, it does," Lorne admitted. "But at the same time I know that this really is Prue."

"You sound pretty sure about that," John looked at Prudence, frowning, clearly confused. "I hate to be sceptical but the Ancient's aren't exactly known for their benevolence. How do we know this isn't another one of their tricks ... for our own good of course."

"I understand Colonel," Prue said simply. "And I understand if you can't trust me straight away. I'm willing to undergo any testing you feel is necessary. I'll submit myself to be restrained too, if that helps."

"No you won't!" Lorne shot out before John could comment.

"The Major is right," Sheppard said, giving his 2IC a pointed look. "I don't think locking you up will be necessary. Elizabeth will want Carson to check you out though, for obvious reasons."

"I'll do whatever it takes if it means I can return to my job Colonel," Prue declared. "I may not have access to all the information I had before but I'm sure I can still make a valuable contribution."

"We'll talk about that later," John dismissed. Moving forward he stopped in front of Prue, looking at Evan with a question in his eyes. Lorne smiled, nodding, watching as his CO pulled Prue into a brief hug. Prue looked bemused, her eyes filling with tears as she hugged John back.

"It's good to see you alive and well Prue," Sheppard said, stepping back. "And not just because Evan's been pretty much useless since you've been gone."

"Hey, that's not true!" Lorne protested.

"It is," John said to Prue in an aside, raising a laugh from her. "It's early but I think we should wake Elizabeth. The sooner we get you started with those tests the sooner we can clear you to return to work."

"Thank you Colonel," Prue said gratefully.

"John," Sheppard reminded her. "And I'm sure Elizabeth will agree that this is nothing compared with getting Evan back to himself."

Putting a hand to Prue's back, the Colonel urged her forward. As they left the balcony and turned towards Doctor Weir's quarters, Prue glanced back to where Evan was following. He shrugged, urging her to go along with whatever John had planned. He'd hoped for a receptive response from his commanding officer, that's why he'd contacted the Colonel first. With John on their side the prospect that Prue could simply slot back into her prior role seemed more likely than it had before.

oOo

Late the same day Prue had completed a whole battery of tests and was resting – under Carson's keen observation – in one of the isolation rooms. Beckett had insisted Lorne go and get some rest, assuring Evan that Prue would be perfectly okay as a guest of his infirmary. Evan had no choice but to agree, pausing only to press a firm kiss to Prue's lips before leaving the infirmary.

News of Prue's return had flashed around the city like wildfire but Lorne managed to avoid being questioned directly, his entire day spent at her side. He wanted to talk to people, his team especially, but only if he could do it with Prue at his side, after they knew the outcome of all those tests. He'd intended to go to his quarters but instead ended up in the hologram room. The program was unresponsive – Rodney had suggested during the early morning debrief that Morgan had disabled it and that he'd look at fixing it when he had time.

For now the room was still silent. As he ran a hand over the console Evan tried to reconcile the events of the past few hours. He'd gone from wondering how he was going to get through the rest of his life without Prue to having her back ... because he'd asked. It just defied understanding.

"Take my advice Major, don't think about it," Colonel Sheppard said from the door. "It will only end up hurting your brain."

Evan laughed. "I think you're right Sir."

John moved into the room, looking around too. "Seems like only yesterday we stood in this room for the first time and found out there was a threat even deadlier than the Goa'uld," he commented.

"Yes Sir," Lorne watched his CO for a moment before speaking. "I have to thank you Colonel."

"For what?" John frowned.

"For accepting that Prue is what she says she is, what I said she was," Evan explained. "I don't think the rest of this would have been as easy without your support."

"You're a good man Evan, and an important part of this base," Sheppard replied. "We need you here, even more so now you've shown what you can do with the gene. And without Prue sacrificing herself I don't think you'd be standing there right now. She saved your life – when this whole thing went down and this morning when she chose you over staying with the Ancients ... it was the least I could do to make sure she had a life to return to."

"You knew how close to the edge I was," Lorne concluded. Running his hands through his hair he couldn't conceal the faint tremor. He was beyond tired and running solely on the euphoria of Prue being alive. And although she was back, letting go of the grief and worse, the knowledge of how quickly he could lose the most important thing in his life would take some time.

"I understand loss Evan," John revealed, "not to the degree you do but like I said when you got back, I can recognise a guy whose ship is sinking fast. You're my second but I'd like to think we're friends as well. Besides, we don't leave anyone behind, not in any sense of the word."

"No Sir," Lorne grinned. "And I appreciate the sentiment Colonel – and the friendship."

"So, you going to tell me about this gene thing of yours?" Sheppard queried casually.

"Sure, of course," Evan agreed just as casually. "What do you want to know Sir?"

"First, when we're talking about stuff like this I want you to call me John," Sheppard said firmly. "I'm not ordering you to talk to me and I'd understand if you don't want to. But if you do, start when you first worked out there was something going on with your gene."

"It's fine ... John," Evan smiled. "And that would be the day I arrived. The city spoke to me ... it was meaningless static in my head at the time but it distracted the hell out of me, before I managed to get the city to tone it down. It's been there ever since, to varying degrees."

"I don't hear the city," John offered. "I can feel her though ... like that tingling you get before you touch something and get an electric shock."

"Sounds just as distracting," Evan commented.

"Yeah, it was," John agreed. "Took a while to get used to it. But it does have its advantages ... drives McKay crazy how I know when we're close to something Ancienty – even before his instruments do."

"He wasn't too happy with me on the Orion either," Evan chuckled. "By then, with all the practice Prue made me do, I could make sense of the static. It helped me work out where to direct our efforts."

"There's something to all this, sure," Sheppard said, "but given the fact that the Ancients chose you long before you even got here I'm not convinced practising was the key. Maybe that was just the way Morgan and the others got you to open yourself up to what you could already do."

"You mean believe it and you can make it happen?" Evan clarified.

"Yes, that," John nodded. "If Morgan had turned up on day one and told us you had what it would take to save all her kind, what would we have done? Told her she was crazy probably. Instead they drew you in gradually until you had no choice."

"That damned frog in his boiling water again!" Lorne shook his head. "Despite the result, being manipulated like that really bugs the hell out of me."

"I'm not too happy about it either," John admitted. "Not because you did anything wrong Evan," he hastened to add. "Because it makes me wonder when or where else they'll dip their noses into our business again without our knowledge."

"If it makes you feel any better I don't think they can, not without risking the same problem happening again," Evan said. "Prue said those columns on P88-013 and here on M4R-322 are permanent – unchangeable. They keep the Ancients honest – all of them, good or bad. If we complete all the translations at both sites we'll be able to detect any deviations. I don't think Fidesia will be hovering over us anymore but with Prue here, if we do have suspicions of tampering, Fidesia might respond."

"That should alleviate the I.O.A.'s concerns," John looked thoughtful. "Plus it's another reason to argue that Prue should stay here. She's the best we have on Atlantis for completing those translations. Assuming Carson confirms she's as human as you or I, I think you're home free."

"You were worried the I.O.A. would request Prue submit for testing back on Earth?" Lorne blinked, wondering why that hadn't occurred to him as well.

"It was on the cards," John admitted. "You'll probably still have to take her to the SGC – General Landry will want to talk to both of you."

"I'll do whatever it takes," Lorne repeated Prue's words from earlier.

"I know you will," John smiled. "You might want to have a chat to Doctor Jackson, mention that he should fill General O'Neill in on the situation too. The General would be a good one to have in your corner if this goes all the way to the Pentagon."

Evan nodded, seeing the sense in using whatever connections he had. Rubbing his eyes he couldn't manage to stifle the yawn that overtook him.

"You need to get some sleep Major," John narrowed his eyes as though really seeing Evan for the first time. "You look like crap – if Carson or Prue see you like this my head will be on the chopping block too."

"Carson's maybe, but not Prue, Sir," Evan shifted back into their more formal relationship with ease. "She'd probably tell me off for keeping you up." It was subtle but he knew John would understand – Prue had always liked the Colonel and after this morning's support and John's genuine expression of happiness that she was okay, Sheppard would never be able to do wrong in her eyes.

"Carson is more than enough threat," John grinned. "Go – bed - now Major."

"Yes Sir," Lorne straightened, giving one of those formal nods that took the place of a salute around the city. And then, a smile playing over his face he turned and headed for his quarters because Sheppard was right. If Carson saw that he hadn't followed his suggestion already, he'd regret it the next time he needed medical attention.

oOo

"Well Major, Doctor," Carson smiled at both Prue and Evan. "I can say with complete certainty that Prue is one hundred percent human – not a trace of anything Ancient or ascended about her. You don't have the ATA gene," he turned to address Prue specifically, "and although I can't say for sure, with the antibodies you have as well as the basic make-up of your DNA I'd say you're exactly as you were before you Ascended the first time."

"The day Occulus was destroyed," Prue said softly.

"Aye," Carson agreed. "We'll need to keep an eye on you should any of the common Pegasus ailments break out – most of the associated viruses would have mutated considerably since you last had to worry about getting sick. Aside from that there's really nothing remotely interesting about you." He smiled at the relief that statement engendered in both of his audience.

"Thanks Doc," Evan said gratefully. "I assume you'll be including all of that in your official report?"

"Oh, aye, you can bet on it lad," Carson put a hand to Prue's shoulder fondly. "Anyone with a smidgeon of gray matter would know that this young lady belongs right here. Now, I'll inform Colonel Sheppard and Doctor Weir of my findings, but for now, you're free to go."

"Free," Prue repeated as she watched Carson walk away.

"For now," Lorne cautioned. He'd already filled her in on his conversation with John the previous evening. "We'll still have to answer to the SGC and the I.O.A."

"I'm not worried about that, not with Colonel Sheppard and Doctor Weir's support," Prue smiled. "What now?"

"Now we go to the Mess hall and face the music," Evan shrugged. "Coughlin and Reed should still be there – I owe them something after the past few weeks."

"What did you do?" Prue frowned, allowing him to take her hand as they walked down the corridor. Everyone they passed looked at Prue first and then him, usually breaking into a smile before nodding to both of them.

"Nothing," Lorne said defensively, not adding that that was the problem.

"Right, so I'll ask Nate then," Prue took the lead, turning into the mess hall and looking for Evan's team. Spotting them she tugged on Evan's hand, not stopping until they were standing beside the table where Coughlin, Reed, Cheung and Doctor Parish all sat, finishing breakfast.

"Sir," Coughlin shot to his feet. "Prue!" His eyes locked on Prue and it was like he couldn't resist. Stepping forward he pulled her into his arms, hugging her tightly. "We heard the news. Man, are you a sight for sore eyes!" he exclaimed.

Prue hugged him back, only letting go when Dan got up, eager to take his turn.

"You might as well hug her too," Evan told Cheung and Parish ruefully. Smiling, the two took him at his word, completing the reunion exchange. Once they were all seated again, Lorne looked around the table. "I ah ... I should apologise for being less than communicative the past few weeks," he said.

"By that he means he refused to talk to us," Nate translated for Prue.

"Evan," Prue frowned at him.

"What?" Evan's brow rose as he looked back at her innocently. "Hey, you try losing the love of your life and see how talkative you are!"

"He's got a point," Dan told Nate.

"Don't even go there!" Nate protested. He was the only other one of Lorne's team who had a girl – that had given him an edge in understanding what his CO had gone through but he'd still found it hard to work out how to help the Major. "We're all glad to have you back ... both of you."

"I missed all of you," Prue said sincerely.

"With any luck Prue will be going back to her old job," Evan explained. "I don't think we'll get away without a trip back to earth first but once that's done we should be back to business as usual."

"Good, because I miss going off world Sir," Dan said feelingly.

"The city not exciting enough for you?" Evan quipped.

"Not in the last week or so," Reed returned. "I'm young Sir ... I get bored easily."

Nate laughed. "He's right about one thing – he's young all right ... I think the correct term is 'immature'." Everyone laughed, even Reed.

"I'm sure something will come along to liven things up for you Airman," Lorne promised. "Now, tell me what's been going on the past few weeks. I'll admit that I haven't exactly been paying attention."

Coughlin answered for them all, running through the basics. Evan sat back, listening, watching the reactions of them all, but especially Prue. She looked happy ... and comfortable. With a start of surprise he realised he'd already gotten used to the changes in her appearance. She was just Prue to him now ... as she'd been before and as she always would be. And he knew he could weather just about anything with her beside him.

The End!