Content Warning: Coarse language mostly, some violence and adult themes.
Season: Set in 1999, four years before Enemy Mine.
Summary: On a trip around Europe, Captain Evan Lorne gets a lot more than he bargained for. Again, pure Lorne, AU, and following on from Call Sign, set two years later. Will feature some OC’s from that story.
Classifications: General, mystery
Spoilers for: None ... extremely minor spoiler for the audio drama Impressions, read by Kavan Smith.
Acknowledgements: The internet! You wouldn’t believe how many websites I visited researching this one. Will mention them as best I can at the end of the story.
Disclaimer: The Stargate characters, storylines, etc aren’t mine. I am unfortunately not associated in any way with the creators, owners, or producers of Stargate or any of its media franchises – if I was Lorne would have been in A LOT more episodes. All publicly recognizable characters, settings, equipment, etc are the property of whoever owns them. The original characters and plot and anything else I made up are the property of me, the author. No copyright infringement is intended.
Copyright (c) 2009 ShaViva
This story was born out of listening to the Stargate Atlantis audio drama Impressions, starring Lorne and read by Kavan Smith. He says “when I was younger I went on a trip around Europe ... backpacking ...” and I thought, oooh – that’s interesting! I did take direction from what little detail about the specifics was included (because I knew next to nothing about art before I started this) but no other link to that story is intended or implied.
The story starts in June of 1999 ... Lorne is now 28 and still a Captain – everything else will be revealed as the story progresses. I hope you enjoy!
An extended journey made by educated people (not necessarily the aristocracy) to Italy and other countries in the 1700s,
broadening their knowledge and experiences and serving as an education rite of passage.
Chapter 1: Medusa
Key Date: Thursday, 4th June, 1999
Captain Evan Lorne turned sightless eyes to the window, not really registering the scenery flashing by outside as he considered the blank sheet of paper in front of him.
He’d hitched a ride from the base at Vicenza to Pordenone in the early morning before catching the next available train to Florence and the first destination in his journey. Travelling first class – money wasn’t an issue for someone who’d been earning a salary for years but had never really spent it on anything beyond basics – he’d managed to find a compartment that for the moment was unoccupied. The trip was more than five hours long and already half over but still he’d failed to put pen to paper.
What could he say that would explain the abrupt turn his life had taken? “Dear Mom, I’ve run away to see the world” didn’t really cut it as he’d been in the air force since leaving high school and had already seen plenty of that world.
“Dear Mom, a friend you never met was killed and I needed to get away” wasn’t a letter he wanted to write either. He wasn’t ready to get into that kind of explanation, no matter how true it was, and the details would only bring back memories his family had struggled to overcome.
With a sigh, Lorne rolled his shoulders to loosen tense muscles, tapping his pen lightly against his cheek as he thought, and then finally began to write.
Don’t be worried okay. I know – that’s a terrible way to start a letter but I needed to state it up front before you read the rest of this. I’m taking a break from the air force ... just for a few months. And no, I haven’t gone AWOL – got full approval from Vicenza AFB and the folks at Air Combat Command in Virginia. When I get back I should be assigned somewhere in the US, so that’s good, right?
Okay, so the break. Remember how we always talked about the Grand Tours of old? Young men travelling around Europe, soaking up the cultural sites and finishing off their educations? Well, I finally realised something the other day ... I’m not getting any younger and if I want to do something like that, now’s the time. I’ve been so focussed on my career – the flying and then trying to get in to NASA – I haven’t taken any time to just kick back and do something purely for the enjoyment of it.
So that’s what I’m doing. Right now I’m on a train to Florence ... got a date with Caravaggio’s Medusa. I’ll write and make you envious describing what it’s like going real life on every painting we only ever dreamed about seeing.
I’m okay so don’t worry about me. Tell Elaine I’ll write to her soon.
He reread the letter more than once, looking for the things he knew would be red flags to his Mom. It wasn’t perfect but without an outright lie, something he never did, it was the best he could do.
Quickly folding it and then stuffing it into an envelope, he wrote on the outside and then tucked it away in his jacket pocket, ready to post once he got to Florence. Sure, he could have called but they were a close knit family. His Mom would have known he wasn’t exactly okay inside of five seconds, wheedling the full story from him probably ten seconds after that. And that just brought him back to the ‘not ready to talk about it’ thing.
Eyes back on the view outside, his thoughts were still elsewhere. His commanding officer from the Aviano base (where he’d been stationed after finishing up at Cold Lake) had been more than a little surprised when Lorne had requested a meeting and then respectfully stated that he was applying for an extended leave of absence.
Major Lee Harrison wasn’t stupid – he’d known some of what was driving Evan but thankfully hadn’t made Lorne explain his motivations. Instead the Major had nodded, stated that based on Lorne’s service record he couldn’t see it being an issue, and promised to endorse the request as soon as it was lodged.
Evan was glad it had been as simple as that because he wasn’t sure he could explain why he was doing what he was currently doing. What he’d written to his Mom was true – they had talked about touring the art galleries of Europe and it was something he’d always wanted to do. But if it had been a driving ambition he’d have done it a long time ago. At the back of his mind Evan knew he was using a vague yearning from the past to justify a simple truth. He was burned out and it was either take a break or ... he didn’t know what, and didn’t want to find out. He’d fed his intellect, his spirit and his ambition for as long as he could remember. And while it sounded beyond corny, the need to feed his soul, to reconnect with the other side of himself, was something he could no longer ignore.
“Time to get some balance,” he murmured under his breath, resting his head back against his seat and closing his eyes tiredly.
Walking down the Palazzo degli Uffizi late the same day, Lorne almost chuckled at himself. Dressed in his civvies – blue denim jeans, dark blue sweater over a white t-shirt, black leather jacket – he felt unlike himself, too used to going around in uniform with its implied identity attached. You didn’t have to portray yourself as anything in particular when your clothes alone so loudly proclaimed your place in the world.
But then, that was part of what his journey was all about ... finding himself without the uniform making it easy for him.
It was early enough in the season that the queue to get into the Uffizi Gallery was short. Lorne joined the back, nodding politely to the older couple in front of him before glancing curiously around. The building had been completed in the late 1500s, constructed in part to house the works owned by the Medici family. Gaining entry a few minutes later, Evan walked the long route down the main corridor, eyes on the ceiling frescos as much as they were on the paintings adorning the walls. He scanned the gallery map as he walked, exiting into the narrow courtyard between the Uffizi’s two wings and then entering the main structure on the other side again.
He wanted to see everything of course, but visiting this particular gallery wasn’t without purpose. He was there for Medusa ... an oil, painted on canvas and mounted on a wooden shield by Caravaggio in 1597 for the reigning Medici of the time. Tracking his way through the halls he finally found her ... standing a few steps away Evan looked at the first of his ‘must see’ works.
She was impressive ... and unexpected. According to Greek mythology Perseus had used the severed head of the Gorgon Medusa as a shield to turn his enemies to stone. He’d been challenged with what had seemed an impossible task but had triumphed through reason and logic. By the 16th century the image of Medusa had symbolised courage in defeating ones enemies, hence it being commissioned for the work now on display.
What made it interesting, what Evan couldn’t have divined from a picture alone was how perspective had been used to create a macabre illusion. The surface of the shield looked concave but was in fact convex and Medusa’s head seemed to project into space, the blood at her neck falling to the floor.
Evan stood for untold minutes looking at the work, thinking about what it meant. Courage in the face of impossible odds. Victory. Things he could relate to even though victory wasn’t guaranteed, no matter how much courage you applied. Something he’d learned all too well recently.
Medusa ... mouth gaping open in anger and pain. At what she was being used to do – defeat those of her own kind? Or was it horror that twisted her face so cruelly? Because of what she did to those who looked upon her. What a fate – to have none able to glance at you without the death of cold stone. The more Evan thought about it the more he realised that Medusa as a character of legend was haunting and more than a little sad. But the painting wasn’t about Medusa. There was a reason the picture depicted her as a severed head. It was about her use as the tool that delivered victory to Perseus, something much harder to see just from the image alone.
Leaving Medusa, Lorne continued through the gallery, stopping here and there but never for as long as he’d stayed with the first work. Closing time was upon him before he was ready. He’d taken the time when he’d arrived in the city to check in at a nearby hotel, doing nothing more than dropping off his pack before going out again. Now he headed back there, already resolved to returning the next day.
Travelling by yourself had the potential to be incredibly lonely ... if you let it. Evan was comfortable with his own company but equally happy to strike up casual conversation with the locals and his fellow tourists. When the same couple he’d seen at the Gallery turned up at the restaurant he’d chosen for dinner and invited him to join them - introducing themselves as Maria and Harold Luca - he’d accepted with a grateful smile.
“Now, what is a handsome young man like you doing travelling alone?” Maria asked while they waited for their food to arrive. If he had to guess, Evan would have put her at about 50 years of age, maybe five to ten years younger than her husband. She put him in mind of his own mother despite the lack of similarity in their appearance. His mother was slender and delicate whereas Maria was more stocky, solid but still feminine. With her dark brown hair and eyes that seemed almost black, Lorne could see that she’d obviously been quite the beauty in her youth, still evident in her elegant facial features, trim figure, and keen attention to her attire. No, it was that air of maternal caring that had him thinking about his own mother ... and about the letter he'd posted earlier that day.
“I was in the area for work,” Evan said evasively, wary of creating more questions he didn’t want to answer. “Too close not to take the opportunity to visit the Uffizi.”
“And you have someone waiting for you back home?” Maria persisted, only a hint of her native Cockney accent still apparent.
“Leave the boy alone Maria,” her husband, Harry, chided, sending Lorne a look of amused tolerance. With a last name like Luca it was no surprise that the other man was the stereotype of a middle to late years Italian male, with the speech patterns to match. “Our children are all married and so we travel to keep each other out of mischief ... but still, my wife is too fond of matchmaking.”
“It’s okay,” Evan smiled easily. “I don’t have someone waiting at home. No time to do that kind of thing any justice.”
“Some things are too important not to make time for them,” Harry took his wife’s hand, the love between them evident.
“How long have you two been together?” Lorne asked curiously.
“Twenty seven years,” Maria declared proudly. “We met here in Florence ... I was on an art scholarship from London and Harry came here for his work. He was in the exporting business before it became fashionable, locating items for his customers from all over the world.”
“It was love at first sight,” Harry admitted with a smile. “Knocked me for six and had me wanting to run for the nearest door.”
“Obviously you managed to resist that urge,” Evan said with an amused smile.
“Best decision I ever made,” Harry shrugged. “Maria and I have been partners ever since.”
“So you come to Florence regularly – celebrate how you met?” Evan asked.
“We always start in Florence,” Maria shared, “on our way to other places. We will spend a week retracing the steps of the past before we move on.”
“Steps of the past,” Evan repeated. “I like that ... I guess that’s what I’m doing too, only it’s not my past.”
“In a way it is,” Harry suggested. “What you see of yourself in the art of the past. For what is art about if not personal reflection?”
“Yeah ... I guess that's what it should be,” Lorne agreed.
“So you’ll head elsewhere before you go home?” Maria asked with interest.
“I’m kind of playing it by ear,” Lorne admitted. “I’ve got some time owing ... and there’re galleries across the continent I wouldn’t mind seeing first hand.”
“Then perhaps we will see you at one of them,” Marie declared with pleasure.
“Perhaps,” Lorne agreed as their server arrived with the meals.
The rest of the evening was spent listening to Maria and Harry share stories about their travels and the things they’d seen and intended to see again this trip. Evan let himself be drawn into a discussion about art, admitting to some of the works he’d like to see. When he found himself yawning repeatedly he apologised, excusing his tiredness to the very early morning and long journey he’d completed that day. He stood to take his leave of the couple, thanking them for their company and accepting the business card Harry pressed on him.
“We’ll meet and share dinner again Evan,” Maria promised.
“I’d like that,” Evan returned, shaking hands with them both. He stopped to pay his bill and then slowly walked back to his hotel.
He returned to the Uffizi again the next day, spending hours looking at its numerous works before finally returning to Medusa as his last stop.
Again he stood before her, lost in his thoughts as he committed the feeling of seeing her in person to memory. If nothing else, going there and seeing the painting first hand ... the feelings it invoked convinced him that he was on the right track ... the Grand Tour. He didn’t know what the future held ... it was part of his self imposed rules for the journey to know only his next destination. There was still plenty to see in Florence of course, but he knew where he was going once that was done.
Two weeks later, and on the train again, Evan sat with another blank piece of paper screaming for him to fill it. He’d spent a few days in Florence before branching out across Italy in a circular route that took him back to the great city.
Before he’d left Florence the first time something had compelled him to purchase art supplies – an A3 sketch book and a basic set of lead pencils. He hadn’t brought a camera, knowing that anything he’d want a photo of would lose something in the translation to film. Instead he sketched – a small section of a building or street to represent the galleries he visited, titbits of what paintings had been where, images that hinted at what he’d been thinking as he looked on the great masterpieces – his own personalised record of his journey. Getting around Italy had been easy – bus, walking and hitching a ride where he could, ably assisted by the Italian he’d picked up while stationed in the country.
Looking down, Lorne felt as if the blank sheet were glaring accusingly up at him. He’d played art gallery tourist for two weeks so you’d think he’d have plenty to write about. But he knew he couldn’t fob his sister off with a trite account of the things he’d seen. His Mom would have shared his first letter which meant Elaine would be worried about him despite his assurances that he was okay. He’d delayed writing to her - too long - and now he had to give her something.
I know – surely I’ve had time in the past two weeks to jot a few words down and send them to you. Or better yet pick up the phone so you can talk to your only brother. I’m sorry ... I have no excuse. I just ... didn’t know what to say.
Two weeks away from things has given me some of the distance I needed ... I will tell you about it eventually but for now just believe that I’m doing okay.
I saw Caravaggio’s Medusa Lainee. She was ... awesome ... gruesome too which just doesn’t come over enough in pictures. Dark but not in an oppressive way. If I added it up I probably spent a day just with her. If you believe in the inspiration behind her then you have to believe that courage can make a difference. I guess the real lesson is that courage doesn’t equate to victory. It’s not about winning the day ... it’s about facing your fears and doing what has to be done in spite of them, knowing that you might not succeed. Some days that’s a particularly tough pill to swallow.
So anyway, I’m on the train heading for Budapest and a date with Paál’s The Depth of The Forest. Silence and tranquillity forever undisturbed ... sounds kind of attractive right about now. Although I always did wonder what was hidden in the trees ... maybe, seeing it in person, I’ll finally find out.
Tell Mom I’ll write to her soon … and yes, I’ll call you … soon.
Chapter 2: The Depth of the Forest
Key Date: Friday, 18th June, 1999
“Victor Charlie Charlie, I have visual on a possible crash site,” Evan took the little plane down below 300 feet, heading for the flash of reflected sunlight glinting somewhere amidst the stretch of rocky mountain terrain. He hadn’t asked how the Canadian contingent had managed to get the little Cessna 337 Skymaster all the way to Vicenza from its service on fire fighting detection duty in Dryden Ontario. Instead he’d just taken the chance when offered to fly the Skymaster on another search and rescue mission to find a downed CF-18 and its two pilots.
Lieutenant Logan Blake ... and Captain John ‘Slammer’ Jones.
Lorne was using his off time after getting reluctant approval from his commanding officer. Not that Major Harrison had a problem with Lorne helping out their allies – as long as he didn’t push himself too hard. Evan would have wanted to fly as many SAR missions as he could anyway, but knowing one of the mission pilots put a whole different spin on that. Even though he was no longer assigned to the Canadian air force he’d still maintained his connections and had kept up with his fellow ex rookie mates.
He’d actually been excited when Slammer had been posted to Vicenza at the start of Operation Deliberate Forge. He and John had completed their fighter pilot training together at Cold Lake two years before, the other man the unofficial leader of their group. They’d stayed in touch but it had been months since they’d really been able to hang out together – Evan staying at Cold Lake after training while John had been assigned to the Bagotville air force base 1700 miles away. Lorne’s new wing (Aviano’s 31st fighting wing) had been integrated into NATO’s 5th Allied Tactical Force along with fighter wings from all the participating NATO countries so it had been like being back on the same team again.
And then Slammer had taken his Hornet out on a routine ‘protect and defend’ mission to guard a convoy of supply trucks heading out into the less populated areas to deliver much needed relief to the locals. The trucks had arrived safely but John and Lieutenant Blake hadn’t returned home.
“Base, relay coordinates,” flight control requested.
“Victor Charlie Charlie, 44.5 degrees latitude, 34 degrees longitude,” Evan consulted the GPS system before reporting his position.
“Base, sitrep ... do you have visual on the friendly?”
Flying as slow as the plane could go without stalling, Lorne looped the area where he’d seen that flash, covering ground until abruptly he saw it again.
“Victor Charlie Charlie, I am visual,” Evan replied. “I have scatter damage ... half a mile in diameter. No signs of activity.”
“Base, affirmative. We’ll send a HH-60 for retrieval,” flight control confirmed after a moment’s pause.
“Victor Charlie Charlie, acknowledged,” Lorne continued to circle, nothing but debris standing out against the barren rocks. “Come on John,” he muttered worriedly. “Where the hell are you?”
Startling awake, Evan frowned for a moment before he snapped back into the present with a glance at his watch. His fourteen hour train ride from Florence to Budapest was almost over. It had been tiring sitting around doing nothing for so long ... tiring enough that he’d nodded off for a while there.
Shaking off the unpleasant subject matter of his dreams, Lorne turned his attention to the view. Hungary was one of the flattest countries in Europe, it’s most recognisable features the Great Hungarian Plain to the east and the river Danube that flowed through the middle of it.
Although he enjoyed getting a feel for the country as a whole, Evan wasn’t there to see it all. He was there for Budapest ... the City of Spas ... Queen of the Danube. A city dating back to the 13th century in one form or another, representing unity in the joining of three cities to make the modern day capital of Hungary. Specifically, Lorne was heading for the Hungarian National Gallery, interesting both for the picture he was there to see as well as the Gallery itself.
The works of the National Gallery were spread over four buildings, part of the former Royal Palace of Buda nestled on the banks of the Danube. Evan exited the train at Kelenföld station, his pack over his shoulders and a detailed map of the city streets in hand. From what he could tell it would take about an hour to walk to the Gallery ... after so many hours on the train he was looking forward to the exercise as well as the chance to choose a small hotel close by to stay for a few days.
It was the kind of day you’d expect for early summer ... sunny but with the hint of cooler winds still in the air. Evan could see the river in the distance, the city a wealth of history through architecture despite the heavy damage it had taken during the second world war. Still a mile or so away from the Gallery he found a place to stay, checked in and dropped off his pack, keeping his sketch book and pencils with him as he continued on.
And then he was on Palota út ... Palace Way. The formal Royal residence was enormous ... old and impressive in a way nothing in his own country could boast. Walking through the main entrance Evan grabbed a gallery map, scanning it quickly for the most likely location for his first port of call.
The Depth of the Forest ... a landscape by László Paál. It was painted in the Barbizon school, named for a village in France where painters had first gathered in the mid 19th century to follow a very basic ideal. That nature could be the subject rather than just the background of a painting. Most likely that was the time that plein air painting had first become so popular. The Barbizon’s were all about romantic realism ... although Evan wasn’t sure the two concepts could exist together in real life he found the ideal to be attractive in an art context. Paál had taken the principles of Barbizon a step further, portraying more than just an objective reflection of nature by projecting his feelings to the landscapes he painted. You could make a fair assessment of Paál’s frame of mind while painting just from the mood the completed works invoked.
At his heart Evan was a landscape painter ... it fascinated him the way no scene was ever fixed. Light quality and brightness, weather, atmosphere, and something indefinable that was as much about the artist as it was about the subject shifted the components of nature and form, making them fluid and ever changing. Lorne painted a scene not to record it like a graphical description, but to capture the mood of the time – his and the scene itself. Paál might not be as well known as the big name painters but to Lorne his body of work was an integral part of Evan’s inspiration in his own work. That was true despite his not having painted anything for more years than he wanted to think about. He wasn’t ready to crack out the canvas and brushes yet but he could feel the bubbling of ideas and artistic interest in the world around him inside – something he hadn’t felt for a long time.
In one of the rooms presenting 19th century painting Evan found his quarry. He stood before Paál’s forest scene, surprised to note that it was much bigger than he’d been expecting. The colours were vivid – autumn yellow leaves, darkened trunks glinting almost white in places. Paál had painted one tree as the focal point, its fellows gathered behind it like soldiers covering a comrade’s back. A stack of fallen branches lay on the ground beside it as though to advertise the presence of humanity. And there, in the background, almost merging into one of the tree trunks, was a woman. She and the pile of branches did nothing to detract from the wildness of the forest, as though the artist had been suggesting that humanity could not have an impact on the integrity of the forest to be what it was.
The scene invoked a sense of peace the longer Lorne looked at it. To his mind the woman was content to be a part of the forest without disturbing its silence and tranquillity.
“It’s an interesting piece, isn’t it?”
Evan turned, startled from his inspection of the painting, to see a middle aged man dressed in a dark blue suit standing behind him. Shorter than Lorne, he had that deceptive build that suggested a more muscular physique than one would expect from his outward attire.
“Very,” Lorne agreed, turning back to the picture. “I was just trying to decide what might be hidden amongst the trees.”
“And have you come to any conclusions?” the man asked curiously.
“Everything and nothing,” Lorne returned simply. “Whatever you want to be hidden there, depending on the day.”
“I was going to suggest a cart for all those branches but I like your answer better,” the man said with a faint chuckle. “Brian Green,” he introduced himself, holding out his right hand.
“Evan Lorne,” Evan replied, shaking the other man’s hand quickly and firmly.
“American?” Green asked.
Nodding, Evan asked “English?”
“Of old,” Green agreed. “These days I’m more of a gypsy. I call the world my home,” he swept his hands out expansively.
“Well, I like what you’ve done with the place,” Lorne joked. Brian laughed, drawing the attention of the other visitors to the room. “You’ve been here before?” Evan asked curiously.
“Many times,” Green revealed. “Perhaps these aren’t the most famous works in the world but I see something different in them every time I visit.”
“I put Budapest on my list because of this painting,” Evan gestured to the forest, silently waiting to be noticed by anyone willing to give it a chance.
“Then you have excellent taste in art Mr Lorne,” Green said approvingly.
“Evan,” Lorne returned.
“You have excellent taste Evan,” Green acknowledged. “And what other works do you have on that list?”
“Too many to count,” Lorne admitted self deprecatingly.
“Well I hope you get to see them all one day,” Brian held out his hand again. “It was a pleasure to meet someone who appreciates the paintings in this room as much as I do. I’ll leave you to enjoy them in peace.”
“Likewise,” Evan shook hands again, nodding before turning back to The Depth of the Forest.
What did he see hidden in the trees that day? Secrets or truths yet to be revealed? Sadness when he began to think that perhaps the woman was searching for more than just firewood as she walked silently amongst the trees. Searching for something she’d never find ... just as he’d searched in the mountains of Bosnia for something already gone.
“Don’t go there,” he told himself, resolutely turning away from his thoughts and away from the painting. He’d come back and look at it another day when his mood was more conducive to seeing its positive side. For now there were plenty of other masterpieces for him to enjoy.
Walking from the Gallery hours later Evan continued along Palace Way rather than heading back to his hotel. He wanted to see the river - the view from Chain Bridge, one of the most recognisable landmarks of the city – should be just the ticket.
Standing in the middle, looking down at the river making its journey through the city, he couldn’t help but return to his contemplation of things hidden ... and lost. The downside of travelling alone, not having someone to distract you from your thoughts.
He felt lost ... because he hadn’t been able to find that plane before it was too late? Was it as simple as that? The internal need to question everything because one thing hadn’t gone the way it should have. Staring into the swirling water below Evan honestly didn’t know. The trip might not have helped him resolve anything so far but he did feel closer to his art and that restored something inside he hadn’t even known was broken.
Dusk was settling over the horizon. Wanting to get back to his hotel before it got dark, Lorne finally left the bridge and walked briskly back the way he’d come. The accommodation he’d chosen turned out to be popular with young travellers. Evan found himself drawn into the community of tourists during the evening meal, happy to admit to being on extended leave from work without telling anyone what it was he did for a living.
Thinking about it later, he realised he hadn’t once admitted to his military connections since he’d left Vicenza base. It wasn’t because he was ashamed or worried that being in the air force would have an impact on his travels, either positively or negatively.
It just wasn’t who he wanted to be right then ... and that saddened him a little.
“So, you create as well as admire art,” a vaguely familiar voice behind him noted with interest.
Evan glanced over his shoulder, his brow raised in surprised. “Mr Green,” he acknowledged the man he’d met his first day in the city.
“Brian, please,” Green returned. Nodding to Evan’s sketch pad, he continued. “I recognised you from the Gallery a few days ago. When I realised you were drawing I must admit to being curious. May I?” he asked for permission to take a closer look.
“Sure,” Evan shrugged, holding out the almost completed sketch. He’d attempted to capture the river side view of the Buda Palace from Chain Bridge, the place he’d chosen as his vantage point.
Brian stood looking at the pencil drawing for a few moments, before getting permission to flip through the previous pages slowly. He took in other scenes in Budapest and all across Italy before looking up with a smile. “You have talent Evan,” he complimented, returning to Lorne's current work. “I can’t say why but I can almost feel the presence of great works of art in how you’ve drawn this. Do you paint?”
“I used to,” Evan admitted. “Not for a while now ... being here is certainly inspiring me to want to try my hand again.”
“One wonders what it must have been like in László Paál’s day when painters gathered as a community and inspired each other to experiment and grow as artists,” Brian commented as he returned the sketch book.
“You go to the right places and I’m sure they still do,” Lorne glanced down at his work before turning his attention back to its subject. In the late day light the river added a sparkle to the edges of the waterfront and Evan felt compelled to extend that effect up the walls of the palace.
“If you ever do more than the occasional sketch, give me a call,” Brian held out his business card.
Taking it, Evan read the inscription. ‘Brian Green, Curator ... Green and Black Gallery, London.’ “I thought you said the world was your home,” he commented, tucking the card away in his shirt pocket.
“It is,” Brian agreed. “I do the work of locating pieces to show in a small gallery I co own. My partner handles the rest of the business. We display well known pieces as well as the work of unsigned artists.”
“Well I think that’s all a little out of my league,” Evan said with a chuckle. “I’m just dabbling ... trying to capture something of what it was like to be here. Because photos just wouldn’t cut it for a trip like this.”
“Your sketches remind one of the emotions behind the scenes,” Brian returned. “Something photos rarely do. I look at the sketch you’re working on today and it reminds me of what it was like the first time I came here. That takes more than a little skill and talent.”
“Thanks,” Lorne wasn’t used to getting feedback on his artistic efforts, not since his Mom used to critique every piece he painted, always encouraging him to find his own artistic voice.
“Again, I have disturbed you,” Brian said apologetically. “Please, continue. Keep my card ... and if you make it to London perhaps you will visit our gallery.”
“I’ll do that,” Evan promised.
As with his time spent in Italy, Lorne returned to the National Gallery a number of times before branching out to other locations within Budapest. Another of the works on his personal list of must sees was located close by at the Museum of Fine Arts.
Monet’s Fishing Boats.
What Evan had always liked about that picture was the simplicity of its subject ... just three row boats beached in front of a choppy sea. He’s always been fascinated with seascapes. As the ultimate in landscapes that continually changed the ocean couldn’t be beaten. Monet’s work only hinted at that, the focus being the boats themselves, but Evan had always wondered how the artist would have expanded it if he’d taken more of the ocean into the scene.
As it turned out he was in for disappointment. The painting had been taken from active display in preparation for being shipped to be part of a Monet exhibition at the Met. If he wanted to see it he’d have to go to New York ... which was kind of amusing since he was at the painting’s home gallery only to find that it would soon be on his home soil. He enquired at the front desk but was told that no one got to see works not on display ... something he’d expected although it hadn’t hurt to ask.
He wasn’t planning it that way, but within two weeks he was again ready to move on. On his last night in Budapest, Lorne packed what little he carried with him and then sat on his bed for a moment before reluctantly heading down to the hotel lobby. There was just one more thing he had to do before he left Budapest.
“Hello,” his sister’s voice brought a smile to Evan’s face even as stronger emotions rose inside him. Suddenly he longed to be home ... not the place but the people, his family.
“Hello Lainee,” he returned in a casual voice, as though they’d only spoken days instead of more than a month before.
“Evan!” Elaine almost squealed him deaf she was so excited by his call.
“How are things at home?” he asked.
“Fine,” she replied. “More importantly, how are you?”
“Good,” Evan said automatically, before correcting himself. “Better.”
“Drew told me about John,” Elaine’s voice was thick with tears. Unlike his mother, she had met John a couple of times when Evan had been doing F-18 training, and again when she’d visited Evan during his time in Canada. “I’m sorry.”
“Yeah, me too,” Evan ground out, his voice low and gravelly. He took a few moments to calm himself, staring blindly across the hotel lobby to the street outside. “Drew called you?” Andrew - also known as Drew - Rider was Lorne’s closest friend from fighter pilot school. Evan had seen him at the funeral but hadn’t hung around to catch up ... because he’d been due back on base and because even with Drew who understood more than most, Lorne hadn’t been ready to talk.
“He was in the area and stopped by to tell me in person,” Elaine explained. “He knew you’d take it hard and I guess he heard about your sudden need for leave.”
“I ah ...,” he frowned, reluctant to tell her the details over the phone. “I couldn’t stay there Lainee ... couldn’t switch off the ‘what if’s. Thinking about my failure -,”
“You did everything you could, I’m one hundred percent sure of that,” Elaine broke in, her tone chiding him for blaming himself.
“How can you say that when you don’t know the full details?” Evan shot back impatiently.
“Then tell me the details,” she said firmly.
“Not over the phone,” he shook his head even though she couldn’t see him. “And not now ... I haven’t sorted it out in my own mind yet.”
“But soon?” Elaine asked gently.
“Soon,” he agreed.
“So ... how’s the art tour going?” Elaine changed the subject in a lighter tone.
“I should have done this years ago,” Evan replied. “It’s ... I can’t describe it Sis. I never believed it before now but you really do have to see them in person to truly appreciate just how ... extraordinary some of these paintings are.”
“I think you’re doing this exactly when you needed to,” Elaine said softly.
“Maybe,” he agreed. “How’s Mom?”
“Worried about you and trying to hide it,” Elaine said without apology. “She’s fine.”
“I’m sorry ...,” he trailed off with an audible sigh.
“Where are you going next?” she asked after a few moments of silence.
“The Hermitage,” Evan smiled, knowing she’d be envious but determined not to admit it.
“Be careful,” Elaine said, her tone full of love and concern. “And don’t leave it so long between calls next time.”
“Yes Ma’am,” he returned teasingly. “And stop worrying about me ... I’ll be fine.”
“Okay,” Elaine paused for a moment and then said quietly, “Love you.”
“Love you too,” Evan replied just as quietly. He said goodbye quickly, emotions brimming to the surface again. Putting the phone back in its cradle he nodded to the desk clerk on duty and then ran up the stairs, two at a time.
Back in his room, lying on his bed staring up at the ceiling, he could almost laugh at himself. It was beyond ridiculous that a man of his age and experience could be almost brought to tears just by the sound of his sister’s voice. He was homesick, although he’d always hated that description for the natural yearning one might feel for the familiar, particularly in the midst of situations alien to it.
Truth be known, he missed his family ... he missed being home ... but he wasn’t ready to return. Not yet.
Chapter 3: The Apostles Peter and Paul
Key Date: Sunday, 5th July, 1999
Going to St. Petersburg straight from Budapest was likely to be the longest single leg in Lorne’s journey. With that in mind he could have taken a plane, turned a forty hour transit covering almost a thousand miles into a four hour straight line. But he didn’t.
The journey wasn’t about getting there as fast as possible, and it wasn’t just about his ‘must see’ art. It was about spending time with himself without an impossible schedule and a world of pressure drowning out his internal voice.
He’d coughed up the cash for a first class compartment on the Tisza Express – at least that way he’d get some rest and some privacy on the long journey. As he sat on the train heading roughly north towards St Petersburg, the silence and the complete lack of anything pressing to do had him realising something else.
Maybe he wasn’t just on the train because part of the journey was the journey itself. Maybe he was there because he was avoiding something.
He hadn’t flown since his trip to Canada after the last search and rescue mission over the Bosnian mountain ranges. There’d been things he’d had to deal with there and then mission reports and sitreps to catch up on once he’d returned to duty. Somehow in all of that he’d managed to avoid pilot duty.
Alone on the train, not even bothering to pretend he was interested in the view outside his window, Evan frowned worriedly. Had he lost his faith in himself as a pilot or worse yet in aviation itself? He didn’t want to think that was the case but the facts were there. He’d had the chance to indulge himself in a joyride flight across Europe and he’d decided instead to spend almost two days on a train. There were only so many ways you could explain that ... logically anyway.
Maybe there was such a thing as too much time to listen to your internal voice. Getting up hurried, Lorne grabbed a jacket, stuffing his wallet and key in his pocket as he headed for the dining compartment.
Even the journeys that seemed endless were over eventually. Despite his private compartment Evan hadn’t slept more than a few hours and was starting to feel it even before the train pulled into the station. He knew the lengthy journey would be worth it though, just for the chance to see St Petersburg. The city was situated in the delta of the Neva River and was referred to as The City of 101 Islands, and also as the Russian Vienna because of all its canals and bridges.
Stretching his back and rotating his shoulders to loosen tensed muscles, Lorne walked from the train at Vitebsky Rail Terminal late in the evening.
Not that you could tell what time of day it was from the sky alone. The city was enjoying the tail end of what they called Beliye Nochi – the White Nights. Because St. Petersburg stood at such a high latitude the sun didn’t descend below the horizon enough to see the sky darken. Night became indistinguishable from day to the point that they didn’t need to turn the street lights on for a few months each year. So while his mind and his watch were telling Evan it was after 10pm it could have been 10am for how bright it was.
The city might feel like it was awake but Lorne was tired ... again with map in hand he set off in the general direction of the Hermitage Museum, some two miles away. Even with a host of incomprehensible street names to wade through the way was easy to follow. He decided to walk to the Museum first, even though it wouldn’t be open, just because he was so close.
Situated in what had been the Winter Palace, constructed in 1754 under the reign of Elizabeth, Peter the Great’s daughter, the Hermitage was beyond impressive ... and long. It stretched for nearly half a mile along the Neva River, the water reflecting off its massive windows creating the illusion that the building was floating above the ground. If the outside was impressive the inside was reputed to be even more so. More than a thousand rooms all unique in fixtures and decor, 117 staircases to traverse and almost two thousand windows you could look out of. Not that you’d have time for that. Lorne had read that you’d have to spend 8 hours in the Museum every day for a year to see the entire collection. He didn’t have anywhere near as long as that ... once he’d seen the picture that had brought him there he’d just have to let chance determine what he saw and what was saved for another time.
Walking away from the Museum building tiredness descended again. Lorne found a hotel, checked in and then threw himself fully dressed on the bed. Moments later he was asleep.
Seeing the pictures you’d admired in books for years was a pleasure Evan hadn’t realised would be so powerful until he’d stood in front of Medusa almost a month ago. Trouble was, it could also be confronting, and that was his overriding feeling on seeing The Apostles Peter and Paul for the first time.
At its basic level the picture was simply a snapshot of two men conversing. Painted by El Greco sometime between 1587 and 1592 the picture was a study in contrasts. Paul, a man of passionate conviction and purpose, his red cloak a symbol of the fire of belief. Turned away from his companion, holding strong to his opinion. Peter on the other hand seemed gentle and tender, his pose one of a man seeking to understand rather than convince.
Internally they seemed very different but on the surface they weren’t unalike. El Greco had painted them wearing similar robes that seemed to envelop any differences due to stature or physical strength. Both bearded, with long faces and scholarly expressive eyes, to Lorne it seemed clear that they were as much friends as anything else.
Two men with the same purpose, serving it in their own uniquely individual way, not unlike Evan and John had always been. John more like the Apostle Paul, always first up to talk about what was right and how he thought things should be. Evan on the other hand saw himself more as Peter, not meek as such but usually choosing to listen first, to understand what drove a person or a situation, using knowledge to guide the outcome rather than fiery conviction.
They said that life imitated art ... maybe in this case it was the reverse, that art was imitating life – his life anyway. Whatever the reason, he hadn’t expected it ... to see an aspect of friendship reflected in the painting. Equally represented was the conflict ... the potential for friendships to be broken. Maybe that was his own interpretation fuelled by his state of mind and recent events ... it hardly mattered why Evan was seeing it that way. Just that he was ... and it hurt because sometimes you didn’t get a choice. Sometimes it was outside forces that split friends apart and there was nothing you could do to stop it.
He’d only been at the museum for an hour but Lorne couldn’t stay there. Looking at anything else would be a waste of time when he wasn’t open to appreciating it. Leaving the Hermitage he wandered the streets of St. Petersburg for a few hours before returning to his hotel ... or more specifically the bar downstairs.
It wasn’t his usual method for handling things but that day Lorne was thinking he could really do with a drink ... or two.
“Evan?” the incredulous voice behind him had him spinning unsteadily in his seat.
“Lainee!” he tried very hard not to slur his sister’s name but didn’t quite pull it off. He swayed forward, catching himself before he fell off his seat, struggling to get his sluggish brain working properly. Something wasn’t right ... wasn’t Elaine supposed to be back home in the US? “What’r you doing here?” he asked, openly confused.
“Looking for you,” Elaine replied, “and not a moment too soon from the looks of you. What were you thinking, drinking like this by yourself in a strange country!?”
“Didn’t have anyone else to drink with,” Evan pointed out logically.
“Are you done?” Elaine was clearly restraining herself from saying more ... even in his inebriated state Evan could see that.
“I don’t know ... am I still awake?” he joked, semi seriously.
“You’re done,” Elaine said firmly, grabbing his arm and attempting to pull him up from his chair. Throwing the bartender an apologetic look as Evan staggered before righting himself by leaning heavily against her, she asked “does he owe anything?”
“All paid up,” the man replied in heavily accented English.
“Thank you,” Elaine turned to look at her brother, sighing heavily. “Come on then,” she dragged one of his arms around her shoulders, holding on to his hand as she wrapped her other arm around his waist. “Let’s get you home.”
“Don’t know where that is anymore,” Evan muttered, thankfully mostly carrying his own weight as his sister guided him out the door and across to the lifts.
“What room are you in?” she asked when the lift arrived. Taking the key he held out wordlessly, Elaine looked at the number and then pressed for the right floor. She tried not to let her concern show but this was so unlike her brother that it left her feeling unsteady herself and not sure how best to proceed.
Never more thankful that Evan was only a few inches taller than her, Elaine half dragged him from the lift on the right floor and down the corridor to his room. If he’d been any taller, given his muscular build, she’d have had to call for help from one of the locals, not something either of them would have been happy with.
“Here we go,” she said, manoeuvring him inside and closing the door thankfully behind them. She watched as Evan staggered to the bed and dropped down, stretching out on his back with a low moan, hands over his eyes. “You okay?” she moved closer, watching him carefully.
“Lainee,” Evan ignored her question, turning his head to look at her. Dressed in casual, fashionable clothes – cargo pants, collared shirt over a pretty floral pattered t-shirt, comfortable shoes - she looked bright and fresh despite what would have been a long flight over from Los Angeles. Evan blinked, narrowing his eyes against the light still streaming in from outside. “What are you doing here?”
“Mom was worried,” Elaine shrugged, “so I volunteered to come over and check on you.”
“I told you I was okay,” he sat up, elbows on his knees as he held his head in his hands.
“Well forgive me if I’m less than convinced!” Elaine shot back. Grabbing a chair from the small table she put it beside the bed, sitting down across from him. “I can’t remember the last time I saw you like this.”
“The Apostles were a big disappointment so I decided to have a drink,” Evan dismissed, unwilling to admit to the specifics.
“Right – so this has nothing to do with John then,” she said quietly. The words had an immediate impact on her brother. She could see his gaze sharpen even as his expression closed down, walls slamming up defensively.
“Don’t,” he said just as quietly, suddenly seeming a lot less drunk than he had a few minutes before.
“No – you don’t get to do that this time Evan,” Elaine leaned forward and grabbed his hands, drawing his eyes to her. “You need to talk about this before it eats you up from the inside.”
“I’m handling it,” Evan insisted.
“You call this handling it?!” she scoffed. “You’ve abandoned a job you’ve loved for years without a word to any of your friends or family, and now you’re getting drunk in strange bars half way around the world! That doesn’t sound like handling it to me.”
“Yeah, well it’s a work in progress,” he looked away, eyes fixed on the floor.
“Talk to me ... please,” Elaine begged. “Drew was visibly cut up about the whole thing and he wasn’t even there! You were.”
“It’s not a pretty story Elaine,” Evan pinned her with an intent gaze.
“I can handle it,” she promised, squeezing his hands encouragingly.
He drew in a deep breath, watching her carefully for a moment as if testing her to see if that was true. And then he began speaking.
“You know Aviano got absorbed into NATO’s allied tactical force ... us and a few other countries including Canada. John arrived at the Vicenza base maybe a month after I did – straight from Bagotville.” He paused for a moment, smiling slightly. “Man we had some fun during our off time ... John’s all business when it matters but he knew how to kick back and get the both of us into trouble with the locals.”
“The local ladies you mean?” Elaine commented teasingly.
“It was all him,” Evan shot back with a grin that died away abruptly as he returned to the story. “Anyway, we’d settled into a kind of routine ... there were plenty of regular missions but it was all pretty standard protect and guard stuff. We were there to encourage both sides to keep the peace, not enforce it. Mostly that was covering the route for supply trucks transporting supplies outside the city, along with making our presence blatantly known. It should have been zero risk ... or close to it. But ...,” he trailed off, shaking his head.
“But something went wrong,” his sister encouraged him to continue after he’d been silent for a while.
“Yeah, you could say that,” Evan confirmed grimly. “John flew out with a co-pilot on board one morning to provide protection services ... the supply trucks got there fine but he didn’t return to base. We couldn’t raise him on the radio. There was no distress call, nothing on radar. It was like he just disappeared. So we flew search and rescue missions to locate him ... doesn’t work well in an F-18 but the Canadians called in a few favours, got us a light plane that was perfect. A week of SAR without finding anything and they were starting to talk about giving it up and declaring them MIA. I begged our commanding officer to let me go out when I was off duty ... got close to being insubordinate before he finally agreed. We’d been searching along the road the truck had taken, branching out from there ... only John hadn’t flown that route on the way back,” Evan swallowed hard. “I can just hear him telling his co pilot to live a little, shake off the cobwebs with a little ‘joy’ flying on the way back. If they’d stuck to the route maybe we’d have found them in time. As it was they were out there for almost two weeks, injured with limited supplies in the middle of nowhere. Didn’t stand a chance really.”
“You found them?” Elaine asked, struggling to keep from crying for her brother as he told the story, his emotions there for her to see reflected in his eyes.
“Yeah,” Evan agreed. “It just occurred to me out of the blue one day to have another look at the map ... widen the search to cover what John would have seen as the ‘hot’ spots geographically speaking. First time up after that I spotted the wreckage. Radioed it in and they sent for a Pave Hawk rescue helicopter. It took just enough time to call one in for me to get back to base. I insisted on going with them.” His voice was a monotone now, as though he’d forgotten there was even someone there to listen. “Wouldn’t take no for an answer ... told Major Harrison I’d go AWOL and hire my own plane to get there if he didn’t approve me going. He was less than impressed but he knew John and I were friends so he let me go.”
Evan fell silent, eyes focussed internally. “Friends,” he finally said bitterly. “Some friend I turned out to be! All I had to do was think! Think about the John I professed to know and I’d have realised sooner that he wouldn’t have followed the flight path on the way back.” He shook his head, shot a glance at Elaine and then fixed his eyes firmly on the floor as he finished the story.
“We found them in a small cave about a mile from the crash site. Total systems failure ... one in a million. They’d both managed to eject before the plane crashed but Lieutenant Blake had been badly injured. John too but somehow he carried Logan for miles until he found them shelter. He fixed himself and the Lieutenant up as best he could and then he sat back and waited for me to find him. He waited through Logan not making it, through dehydration and the worsening effects of his injuries. He waited until it killed him.”
“Why didn’t he radio for help?” Elaine asked hesitantly.
“Couldn’t,” Evan replied. “They had a portable with limited range but it was damaged after they ejected. It was either stick together near the crash site and wait for help or John would have had to leave Logan to go search for help from the locals.”
“And he chose to stay with his co pilot,” she commented softly.
“I guess,” Evan agreed, his tone strangely bland.
Elaine looked at him, eyes narrowed. “And that makes you angry,” she said, sure her sudden revelation was accurate.
“He gave up!” Evan said, pulling his hands away as he got up abruptly. He swayed for a moment, steadying himself and then moved to stand before the window. The stark daylight brightness when he’d expected night time was disorientating for a moment. “He could have gone for help and come back for Blake but instead he sat there and waited and waited – even after Logan died he didn’t’ get off his ass and find help for himself!”
“Maybe he couldn’t,” Elaine suggested. “Maybe he knew Logan wasn’t going to make it and he couldn’t bring himself to let him die out there all alone. Or maybe he was just confused – you said he was injured too. Maybe he just wasn’t with it enough to work out how to save himself.”
“We’ll never know,” Evan pointed out.
“No we won’t,” she agreed. “So maybe instead of judging him so harshly you could decide to assume if he could he would have saved himself and Lieutenant Blake.”
“It’s my fault he’s dead,” he kept his back to his sister as he forced the words out, the view of the city distorted through the blurring of his vision. Pressing hands to his eyes in the hopes of forcing his emotions back where they belonged he didn’t hear Elaine approaching until she wrapped her arms around him from behind.
“It’s not,” she insisted. “It’s not anyone’s fault Evan. It was an accident ... a horrible, tragic accident. John wouldn’t want you to blame yourself.”
“He’d tell me to get over myself,” Evan sniffed as he chuckled, knowing it was true.
“So get over yourself,” Elaine suggested.
“I’m trying,” he acknowledged, patting her arms before breaking away. Looking down at her he smiled as genuinely as he could manage. “This isn’t a pity trip or me trying to avoid having to deal with losing a friend.”
“Then what is it?”
“I felt ... lost,” he admitted. “After I got back from the funeral. I just couldn’t settle ... couldn’t bury it like every other time someone I knew was killed in the line of duty. Sure, some of that’s because John wasn’t just some guy I knew vaguely. It’s the first time I lost someone close to me since ...,” he trailed off again, frowning.
“Since Dad,” Elaine finished.
“Yeah,” Evan agreed. “Since Dad. And I couldn’t stop thinking about that either. If every time something like this happens the past comes back to slam me then maybe ...,” he took a deep breath before finishing it “maybe I’m not cut out to be doing what I’m doing.”
Elaine’s reaction had him rearing back in surprise. She didn’t argue with him or ask him to explain it to her. Instead she laughed, for real, amusement taking over her whole body.
“Maybe you could fill me in on the joke,” he suggested sarcastically when she continued to laugh without explanation.
“Oh Evan,” Elaine patted his shoulder fondly. “You were born to do what you’re doing. The flying and being in command and the whole military thing. Everybody knows it ... except you apparently.”
“O-kay,” he nodded uncertainly, wincing at the headache that was beginning to pound behind his eyes. Maybe he shouldn’t have been quite so enthusiastic in his attempts to drink away his troubled mood.
“Headache?” Elaine asked in concern, watching him clutching his forehead with a wince.
“Yeah,” he admitted.
“Serves you right,” she said unsympathetically.
“I can always count on you to keep me firmly in my place, can’t I?” he complained, sitting back on the bed wearily.
“Get up ... go brush your teeth and get ready for bed,” Elaine said with a smile, the firm maternal tone she’d learnt from their Mom coming out clearly.
Evan just did what she said, tired and frankly still drunk enough to welcome someone else taking charge for a change.
Coming back out of the bathroom a few minutes later he meekly submitted as she urged him to get into bed and then went as far as tucking him in as though he were five instead of almost twenty nine.
“Sleep,” she said, smoothing a hand through his hair.
“What’re you gonna do?” he finally thought to ask.
“The couch looks pretty comfortable,” Elaine said lightly. Leaning down, she kissed his cheek, ruffled his hair and then moved away.
Evan lay there listening to her movements as she grabbed blankets and a pillow from the wardrobe and made up a makeshift bed on the couch. She turned off the lights and settled down, the silence comforting rather than oppressive.
“Thanks Lainee,” Evan said into the darkness.
“You’re welcome,” she replied, smiling.
Evan smiled too, closing his eyes and letting sleep take him.
“When are you heading home?” Evan asked his sister the next morning, the two sharing breakfast in the hotel’s restaurant.
“I thought I’d hang around for a while,” Elaine said lightly. “If that’s okay with you?”
“Its fine,” he said just as lightly, holding in a smile. “I’ll have to send you back to school at the end of summer break though ... or Mom will have my head.”
“You might have to call her,” his sister carefully looked away, buttering a slice of toast with studied nonchalance.
“Elaine,” Evan’s tone was stern. “You did tell her you were coming over here didn’t you?”
“Not exactly,” Elaine admitted.
“I thought you said she was worried and you volunteered to come check on me!” Evan glared at her accusingly.
“She is worried so I ... volunteered myself without input from her,” she shrugged. “I’m here now. And let’s face it, if one of us should be touring Europe admiring art it should be me. I’m the one studying it!”
“Fine,” Evan sighed, rubbing a hand behind his neck while he looked at her. “But you’re calling Mom.”
Elaine nodded, neither of them pointing out what they both knew, that Evan wasn’t ready to talk to their mother just yet.
The trip took on an entirely different feel now he had company. Elaine brought youth and enthusiasm and innocence to everything and it coloured Evan’s view too. They were only three years apart in age but sometimes that felt like a lot more ... the weight of experience and knowledge adding years to the difference between them. Elaine was still starting out ... finally admitting that art was what she wanted after a few years of trying to make something else of her original degree. In the end she’d decided to return to college and was studying for a master’s degree with the view to getting a curators job in a gallery somewhere.
The day after Elaine arrived they returned to the Hermitage and El Greco’s Apostles.
“What do you see today?” Elaine asked lightly.
“Two guys who were very different but knew how to get along,” Evan said after considering the painting for a few moments. “Friends.”
“Friends,” Elaine agreed. She let the silence ride for a few minutes before speaking again. “Did you know that El Greco wasn’t the painter’s real name? It just means ‘The Greek’, because he was and –“
“Yes,” Evan interrupted, trying not to laugh at her disgruntled expression. “His real name was Domenikos Theotokopoulos . Did you know that this place has 1786 windows?”
“Yes ... no ... you know that’s hardly about the art Evan,” Elaine discounted his knowledge loftily.
“Right,” he did laugh then.
“Okay, did you know that Los Angeles is the sister city to St Petersburg,” Elaine tried again.
“Yes – but I can pretend I didn’t if it’ll make you feel better,” Evan said, grabbing her hand and leading her on to the next masterpiece.
Chapter 4: The Potato Eaters
Location: The Netherlands
Key Date: Tuesday 20 th July, 1999
From Russia Evan and Elaine travelled to Denmark and from there to the Netherlands. Two weeks in St. Petersburg spent almost entirely in or around the Hermitage, followed by three days in Copenhagen visiting Statens Museum for Kunst saw them almost two thirds of the way through July and into the heart of summer in Europe.
As travelling companions, the two worked well together. Most of that was down to Elaine who understood her older brother well enough to know when to give him space and when to push him to talk about what was going on in that stubborn head of his. They hadn’t talked more about what had happened to John or Evan’s part in it but Elaine could see a change in him. He seemed more settled within himself, although there were still plenty of times when she could see he was thinking about the friend he’d lost. She couldn’t say for sure but it seemed that now Evan was thinking as much about when John had been alive as he was about how he’d died. Of course she knew it wasn't as simple as that ... Evan often took responsibility to a whole new level and her being there, getting him to talk about it, wasn't going to just switch that off. It was a start though, and one it seemed he'd desperately needed, even if she couldn't help him with the rest of his recovery.
Their only point of contention had been before setting off from St. Petersburg to Copenhagen. Elaine had wanted to fly, not keen to spend 7 hours on a train to Helsinki and then more than 20 hours travelling from there to Copenhagen. Even travelling on the overnight train it was still a long journey.
“If you’re in a hurry to get there, don’t let me stop you,” Evan returned, effectively cutting off any means for talking him around.
“I want to stay with you,” Elaine almost stamped her foot in annoyance.
“Well I’m taking the train,” he crossed his arms over his chest, waiting for the next argument.
“You know ... flyboy ... I’m a little surprised you’re not out there trying to hire your own plane,” Elaine said sarcastically.
“Don’t call me that,” Evan shot back.
That was when she realised there was more to his desire to take the long way than just wanting to annoy her. He seemed almost angry and that just wasn’t like her brother. “Okay, fine,” she made a production out of giving in.
“Good,” he relaxed immediately, putting an arm around her and urging her along. “Now go pack ... we’re leaving tonight.”
“Yes Sir,” she muttered snidely.
When they’d been in Copenhagen for a couple of days and Evan began talking about the train trip from there to Amsterdam, Elaine wisely said nothing.
Twelve hours after starting out Evan and Elaine stepped from the train at Amsterdam Centraal on another warm and sunny day.
“This is nice,” Elaine said, smiling across at her brother as they walked from the station in the direction of their next Gallery destination.
“Yeah,” Evan glanced up from his map. “Let’s go to the Van Gogh Museum straight up ... we can find a place to stay along the way.”
Nodding, Elaine kept pace with him as they walked down Stationplein. “So what’s on the must see list here?” she asked curiously.
“Everything,” he said with a chuckle. “But the Potato Eaters is at the top.”
“Did you know ...,” Elaine looked at him and then stopped.
“Go on,” Evan encouraged.
“Okay ... did you know that his patron was his younger brother Theo?” she finished. “Because of that, because of all the letters Vincent wrote to Theo we know what he was trying to do with many of his paintings, maybe more so than any other artist.”
“Unlike El Greco,” he grinned teasingly. “Some people still think his paintings were influenced by drugs and a severe stigmatism.”
“Exactly!” Elaine laughed. She was going to say more until they turned a corner and she saw a large building across the street with orange and white awnings sitting behind a large fountain. The signage proclaimed it the American Hotel. “Ooh! Evan – let’s stay there!” she grabbed his hand and pulled him forward.
“Looks a little expensive,” he commented, letting himself be drawn across the road and around the corner to the main entrance. It was an impressive facade housing an equally impressive interior in the Art Nouveau style. Nodding to a group of tourists watching their procession with amused smiled he followed his sister until they arrived at the front desk. “Okay,” he couldn’t bring himself to crush the look of excitement from her face. “But only for a couple of days.”
“Thank you!” Elaine hugged his arm, almost bouncing in her eagerness.
“My sister is very keen to stay here so I hope you’ve got rooms available,” Evan told the desk clerk.
“Of course Sir,” the woman responded with a friendly smile.
A few minutes later they were being shown to a suite, two rooms and a living space, up market and impressively decored. Watching as Elaine bounced enthusiatically from one thing to the next Evan decided the expense had been worth it.
Lorne had a true appreciation for art ... both the creation and the viewing of it. But he’d never been completely captivated – carried away for the real world – by a painting ... until he saw The Potato Eaters for the first time.
It was a simple image ... five figures at a table sitting down to a meal of potatoes and what looked like coffee but was actually a brew made from chicory. Peasants, with coarse features, low foreheads and thick lips, dressed in drab attire ... everything about them proclaiming their lot in life. Van Gogh had set out deliberately to create his first masterpiece with the picture ... a study of peasants, not to malign them but to show that they lived in harmony with their unspoiled, natural environment ... the beginning of representing his views about art and society in synchrony.
As an intended masterpiece of the time it had fallen well short, never being exhibited at The Salon as Vincent had intended. Its prominence and importance in the continuing development of modern art had only occurred after the artist’s death.
Evan sat on the bench in front of the painting for hours, not aware of the passage of time. As he continued to consider the image his eyes were drawn to the woman on the right, looking at the man next to her. He was focussed on the female figure across the table, unaware of her regard. The expression on her face ... the longing in her eyes ... had Evan consumed with the whys. Why was she looking at the man while he looked elsewhere? Was he her husband, her brother, or perhaps a guest she hoped to win affection from? What was it she wanted from him? Approval, love, thanks for the meal she’d toiled in the fields and in their meagre house to provide for him?
The images were based on real models – they’d lived in 1885 when the painting had been created much as the painting portrayed. Had Van Gogh imagined that air of contentment or was that a true reflection of the time? The idea that contentment could be found under such conditions interested Evan just as much as trying to decide what each of the figures was really thinking.
“Evan?” Elaine’s hand on his shoulder drew his attention back to the present.
“Hey,” he turned to greet her.
“Have you been here the whole time?” she asked in surprise, the two having separated pretty much as soon as they’d stepped through the museum doors.
“Yeah,” he admitted ruefully. “What time is it?”
“Lunch time,” she revealed.
“Damn, sorry,” Evan got up quickly, surprised he’d been there for so long. “I meant to come find you an hour ago.”
“It’s okay,” Elaine smiled. “I’m glad this one lived up to expectations.”
“And then some,” he replied, turning to look again at the painting before following her from the room.
“Don’t worry Honey, you can come back and see it again tomorrow,” she said comfortingly, laughing when he looked at her pointedly. “I’m hungry ... what’s for lunch?”
“I don’t think they’re serving smart asses today,” he shot back.
“Sorry,” Elaine grinned. “The Potato Eaters is clearly worthy of the notice of the great Evan Lorne ... we should all worship it much as we do you.”
“Laugh it up Lainee,” he replied, nodding to the security guard at the door as they exited the main building. Off to the right construction was almost complete on a second building, the new Exhibition wing that would open later in the year. “Let’s see if we can find somewhere that serves potatoes ... since I know how much you love them.”
“Okay – you win,” she stopped and bowed to him. They both knew she hated potatoes in any form.
“You can have what you want ... as long as you agree to come and see the painting with me another day ... with an open mind,” he proposed.
“Deal,” she grinned, wrapping a hand around his upper arm and encouraging him to get moving again.
“Happy Birthday!” Evan cracked open an eye three days later to see his sister standing beside his bed, hands clutching a small, gift wrapped package.
“What?” he frowned in confusion.
“It’s the 22nd of July silly,” Elaine said in exasperation. “The day we’ve celebrated your arrival into the world for the past 29 years.”
“Oh ... that,” he muttered less than enthusiastically.
“Get up birthday scrooge,” she said insistently.
“This is really why you came over here isn’t it?” he complained, rolling over and burying his head in his pillow. “To torture me.”
“Of course,” Elaine said sarcastically. “I flew more than 6000 miles just to make sure you couldn’t skip out of celebrating your birthday. Because that’s just the kind of sister I am.” She waited to see if he was going to move but he gave every appearance of going back to sleep. “Evan ... please?” she put 25 years of sisterly wheedling into the tone she knew he couldn’t resist.
“Fine,” his voice came back muffled through the pillow. “I’ll get up ... just give me a minute here okay?”
“A minute,” she said firmly before leaving him alone.
“Happy 29th old man,” he muttered to himself, rolling over again to stare up at the ceiling. Twenty Nine! God, where had that time gone? Sighing, Evan sat up, knowing he was in for a difficult day. He’d have to play along with whatever Elaine had planned and try to look happy about it ... and he’d have to call his Mom.
“Happy Birthday,” Elaine said for the second time that morning, pushing the small rectangular package across the table. They’d had a light breakfast in the hotel restaurant and were finishing up with coffee.
“What is it?” Evan looked at the package curiously.
“That would be the point of opening it hotshot,” she pointed out sarcastically, rolling her eyes.
“Right,” he grinned, picked up the gift and removing the paper quickly. Lifting the lid, he looked down at the contents for a moment before meeting her expectant eyes. “A mobile phone?” he asked pointedly.
“You don’t have one,” she pointed out, “which is really inconvenient when I want to talk to you. Sometimes you don’t call back for days!”
“You do realise a birthday present is supposed to be something the recipient, not the giver, wants, right?” he pinned her with a sharp look.
“Get with the times old man,” Elaine teased, not taking offence that he was less than impressed with her efforts. Taking the box from him she removed the slim black phone and pressed the on button. “I programmed in a few numbers for you,” she said, pressing more buttons and then handing the phone to him, “including one you need to call today.”
Evan glanced at the number – home back in LA – and nodded wordlessly. Switching off the phone he shoved it in his back pocket. “Later,” he promised. Finishing up his coffee, he got up and moved to Elaine’s side of the table. “Thanks Sis,” he said, leaning down and pressing a kiss into her hair.
“Hey, don’t go anywhere,” she grabbed his hand, holding him back. “I’ve got plans for you!”
“I was afraid of that,” Evan quipped, nor really minding despite his protests.
“If you’re a good boy I’ll let you go back to see your favourite painting later,” Elaine said piously.
“I’m 29 Sis,” he pointed out. “Don’t you think I’ve left being a boy behind by now?”
“Men remain boys their entire lives,” she said knowingly. “It’s a well established fact.”
“Right,” he laughed. “Well, come on then. Don’t sit there day dreaming. Let’s get this birthday crap over with.”
“You’re such a charmer Evan. I’m surprised you don’t have a horde of women chasing after you,” Elaine said, letting him pull her up from her chair.
“Who says I don’t?” he teased. “Maybe that’s the real reason I had to leave Italy.”
“In your dreams,” Elaine laughed, happy to see her brother behaving more like the man she knew.
“Evan James Lorne!” his Mother’s voice over the phone had him wincing in dismay. He’d let Elaine take him on a tour of the non art related sights of Amsterdam and then to lunch. She’d promised him their next stop would be the Van Gogh museum – once he’d called home – and then left him at the table alone with a look that said he better do it right there and then.
“That’s the name you gave me ... 29 years ago today, remember?” he tried to steer her away from being angry he hadn’t called before.
“Yes ... Happy Birthday dear,” Grace Lorne returned. “But don’t think that’s going to get you off the hook young man,” she added sternly.
“Ah ... no Ma’am,” he sighed, feeling the silence she was deliberately letting build, knowing eventually he’d feel compelled to fill it. “I’m sorry I haven’t called since I left Vicenza,” he finally caved and gave her what she wanted.
“And so you should be,” Grace replied. “Almost two months Evan! Do you know how concerned I’ve been ... after Elaine told me about your friend, and no word from you?”
“I did write to you Mom,” Evan tried to excuse himself.
“’Don’t be worried’!” she quoted him pointedly. “Who starts a letter like that? It’s like telling someone not to look down!”
“I ah ... okay, I deserved that,” he acknowledged. “I just ... I wasn’t ready to talk about it.”
There was silence from the other end of the line before his Mom spoke again. “And now?” she asked carefully.
“Now ... I don’t know,” Evan picked at the label of his water bottle as he considered the question. “It’s better Mom but ...,” he trailed of awkwardly.
“But you don’t want to talk about it over the phone,” she concluded. “That’s fine Evan. Elaine’s there looking after you so I suppose I’ll have to be content with that.”
“More like I’m looking after her,” Evan chuckled.
“Well it’ll give you something to do dear,” Grace retorted. “Keep you out of mischief.”
“I guess ... although I really didn’t need any help with that,” he replied.
“What are you doing for your birthday?” his Mom asked, her tone hopeful.
“Assuming hiding is out of the question I guess I’ll just continue to let Elaine drag me wherever she’s planning on dragging me,” Evan replied. “If I’m good she’ll let me go back to the Museum next – her words.”
Grace laughed. “Be strong,” she encouraged. Again there was silence, this time comfortable. “Is it what you expected?” she asked.
“Seeing the paintings in person?” he queried. “More than. Especially here ... kinda took me by surprise. You know me Mom – I’m not exactly the day dreaming type but I sat in front of The Potato Eaters and I swear hours went by without me even noticing.”
“That’s wonderful,” Grace smiled fondly. “Does this mean I’ll be seeing something from you in the future?”
“Maybe,” Evan knew she was talking about his painting, the fact that he’d given it up as he’d gotten further and further into his military career something they didn’t talk about. He knew she was disappointed though, that she’d hoped he’d give up his lifelong love affair with the sky in favour of a career in art. “I’ve been sketching since Florence ... nothing elaborate but ...,” he trailed off, giving a shrug she couldn’t see.
“It’s a start,” she said, her tone approving.
“You should plan some time off in the future,” Evan suggested. “Come over and see it all for yourself.”
“Maybe one day,” Grace dismissed, changing the subject. “I’ll let you go now – this call must be costing you a fortune. Tell Elaine to behave herself ... and don’t wait so long before calling me again.”
“I won’t,” Evan responded to the last part of her statement, knowing from experience that there was no point in protesting or pointing out that he could afford to talk to her for longer.
“Happy Birthday baby,” Grace said softly. “I love you.”
“Thanks Mom,” he smiled. “Love you back.”
He lowered the phone and stared at the small screen for a moment before slowly switching it off and returning it to his pocket.
“Okay?” Elaine appeared out of nowhere.
“Yeah,” he nodded, getting up and joining her. “Mom said to behave yourself.”
“What?” I always behave myself,” Elaine protested.
“Right, that’s why you came here without telling her first,” Evan pointed out the flaw in her statement.
“If you want to go back to the museum you better watch your step buddy,” she warned, mock glaring at him.
“Shutting up now,” he grinned teasingly.
Elaine narrowed her eyes, waiting for him to say something else. When he remained silent she nodded happily. “Okay, the Van Gogh Museum it is. I’ll be timing you this time.”
The Potato Eaters was as compelling the second time as it had been the first. Evan had expected the impact to be lessened now that he’d seen it once and was relieved to find he’d been wrong.
After promising to meet back with his sister in an hour he took the same seat he’d taken three days prior, settling in to let his thoughts wander.
“Sir, if you could come with us?”
Startled, Evan looked around to see two officials standing to either side of him, their manner and expressions announcing them as Museum security.
“Is there a problem?” he asked, getting up.
“Please come with us,” one of the men repeated, motioning for Evan to walk towards the doorway.
“Okay,” he agreed, frowning in confusion. “Elaine – my sister – is she okay?”
“As far as we know Sir. Mr De Jong wishes to have a word with you,” the same man explained.
“And who might Mr De Jong be?” Evan asked, starting to get a little annoyed at their cryptic behaviour.
“Museum curator,” the other man clarified, leading Lorne through a door with Dutch signage that presumably said staff only and down a long corridor. Knocking at a door, he opened it and then motioned for Evan to precede him.
When he walked into the room Lorne immediately stiffened, narrowing his eyes as he looked from the suited guy behind the large desk to the only other occupant, his two escorts staying outside in the corridor after closing the door behind him.
It was nothing obvious – the guy wasn’t wearing a uniform or a badge but Evan knew as soon as he’d seen him that he was police, or some kind of equivalent.
“Evan Lorne,” he introduced himself, stepping forward confidently and holding out his hand to the curator.
“Janssen De Jong,” he replied, eyes shooting to the other man.
“We already know who you are Mr Lorne,” the man’s tone was just bordering on drawling sarcasm and Lorne knew he was in trouble.
“That’s ... nice,” Evan said, turning to meet his eyes. “Maybe you could return the favour by introducing yourself and telling me what you want from me.”
“Rutger Smit ... Inspecteur Rutger Smit,” the man replied in slightly accented English. “Korps Landelijke Politiediensten – you would say the National Police Services Agency.”
“What can I do for you Inspecteur?” Lorne asked, still puzzled.
“Tell us where the painting is Mr Lorne,” Smit said abruptly.
“What painting?” Evan looked from one man to the other, not missing the glance they exchanged.
“The one you stole two days ago,” Smit replied.
Just wanted to acknowedge the audio drama Impressions here - there's a great bit in there where Lorne talks about seeing The Potato Eaters. It's the reason I included that painting in this story. As for his birth date, I took the one listed on his character page on the Stargate wiki - no idea why it was set as July 22 but I decided to go with that rather than use Kavan's birth date.