Content Warning: Nothing really, some minor swearing is about it.
Season: This is set during 2002, which lines it up pretty much with the rest of season 6 of SG-1.
Summary: Returning to life in the U.S. Evan faces new challenges, both personal and professional as he takes on new roles and realises anew what it means to be part of a family. Again, pure Lorne, AU, and following on from Campaign Kandahar
Classifications: Family, friendship
Spoilers for: None
Acknowledgements: Wikipedia for some of the early chapters. This one wasn't as research intensive for reasons that will become apparent.
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) 2010 ShaViva
Chapter 1: I'm not in a hurry to leave you okay
Early June 2002
It was strange being home ... Lorne thought he could get too used to the comfort and the privilege of having his mother looking after him. The injuries he'd sustained in Kandahar had made that a necessity when he'd first got home but two weeks later he was still living in the lap of luxury care. Like he'd said to Elaine, it was actually kind of nice and since he wasn't fully recovered he could justify enjoying it.
Added to that was the comfort and familiarity of returning to live under the roof he'd grown up with ... the two story house a few blocks back from the shores of San Francisco Bay, with it's white paint and blue shutters, it's cluttered attic and walls adorned with years worth of art works and pictures. If you walked through the halls it was like taking a journey into the past and all it's key events ... like taking a seat inside Grace Lorne's heart through the outward display of pride and love in her two children. Evan had spent a lot of hours there the past two weeks and he was okay with that. For him that house represented home .... family .... connection. He always felt comfortable there, no matter how long it had been since his last visit, no matter how long he stayed each time.
Elaine had hung around too – it was the longest they'd lived under the same roof since he'd left for the academy. What made it particularly special for Evan was that he was sharing in the early stages of his sister's first pregnancy. With Drew away he'd stepped in as a surrogate hand holder and general mood pick-me-upper as she'd tipped from ecstatically happy to tearfully upset, sometimes without provocation. It was understandable and not just because she was pregnant. She missed her husband and was struggling with not having even told him he was going to be a father yet. Maybe she could have just emailed him but Elaine had dug her heels in, determined she wouldn't deliver such personal news in so impersonal a manner.
That was something Evan had been pushing to correct. He'd promised Elaine at the airport that he'd at the very least get her a phone call but since he didn't have an active post on U.S. soil was finding that more difficult than he'd expected. You didn't just call an Air Force Base and ask to use their facilities - not unless you were a big wig General. It'd be nice to video call Kandahar much as he used to call Cold Lake but from what he'd been told, security wise that capability was still a few months away. In the end Evan had called a couple of people he knew in Air Combat Command and that morning had finally hooked on to someone who'd been willing to help him expedite things.
Now he was just waiting for his sister to get back from her latest shopping expedition for the baby – just window shopping because she'd decided she wouldn't buy anything without Drew there to help her decide. Evan wasn't commenting on how often she needed to go out looking – it seemed kind of excessive but what did he know about babies? Although, now that he was going to be an uncle, he'd probably have to learn something about them ... eventually.
"Evan?" Elaine's voice and the sound of the front door closing interrupted his musings.
"In the living room," he called back, staying in his seat with his leg stretched out. The wound had healed nicely to the point of being just an angry red line on his upper thigh now but the underlying muscle damage caused by having a knife stabbed so deep was still giving him grief. His shoulder wasn't much better ... again, surface wounds healed but the underlying muscles and tendons still needing more work. He was doing physical therapy every day and progressing ... just not fast enough to stave off his impatience to be back on the job.
At the time, when he'd been caught up rescuing those six marines, Evan hadn't really thought about living with the consequences. It was only later that he'd realised just how lucky he'd been - any one of his injuries could have been a hell of a lot worse. Looking down at the new scar on his right forearm he acknowledged again that the burn – from direct contact with ignited white phosphorus – could have put him out of action long term, small as it seemed now. Instead of one escharotomy to cut away the thick, scabbed surface of the healing burn to let blood flow get to the new skin underneath he could have been facing multiple operations including skin grafts before the area was healed. And that was only the surface of it – if the WP had gotten into his system he'd have been lucky not to have suffered liver or other organ failure. He could have died ... out there in the field or back on base from his injuries. And maybe it wasn't a whole lot different than being at risk every time he went up in an F-16 – surface to air missiles could pick you off before you even knew they were there – but it felt different. He was still thinking about that, and the fact that he'd shot and killed two Afghan guards and blown up a host more ... still trying to reconcile it in his own mind. You had a view inside about the kind of person you were, what you were good at .... and sometimes things happened that surprised you, showed you that you were capable of being more than you'd previously thought.
"What are you doing?" Elaine appeared in the doorway, frowning when she saw him sitting there, no music, no television, nothing to distract him.
"Waiting for you," he returned. "You tired?"
"A little, but I can still do something, if you need help," Elaine looked at him with concern. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah – just thinking," Evan dropped his leg to the floor, shifting and slowing pushing himself to his feet. He'd finally gotten rid of the crutches and cane he'd been forced to use the first week back and now managed to get around at a slow pace but still with a noticeable limp. "I do need you to take me somewhere though, if you're up to it?"
"Just let me freshen up," Elaine smiled, patting his shoulder before hurrying away.
A few minutes later she returned, letting her brother set the pace as they headed for her car, borrowed from their Mom. "Where to?" she asked, not commenting on the way he winced as he folded his legs inside the passenger space.
"Ah ... across the Bay. Get on the I-80 and head east," Evan instructed. "Shouldn't take more than an hour or so ... I'll give you more directions when we get close."
"Okay," Elaine started the car and backed out of the drive. "Where are we going?" she asked curiously, merging into the traffic.
"Travis AFB - Fairfield," he replied. "It's the nearest base to San Francisco ... someone suggested I talk to a guy there about a couple of things, including maybe getting back to light duty sooner rather than later."
"You're not going back already," Elaine frowned, glancing over at him before directing her attention back to the road.
"They wouldn't let me," Evan admitted. "Not yet anyway – but once I can pass a basic physical I could get back on reduced duty."
"I didn't realise you were in such a hurry to get away from us," Elaine murmured sadly.
"Hey," Evan waited until she glanced at him again. "I'm not in a hurry to leave you okay. But it's my job Elaine, and the longer I'm away the harder it is for me to get back where I need to be."
"Afghanistan," she stated quietly.
"Maybe .... I don't know," Evan returned. "Back in the air, definitely. This isn't about you or Mom though – you have to know that."
"I know. I get it, okay," Elaine sighed. "I just ... I was hoping you'd be close by for a while longer ... at least until Drew comes home and I go back to Canada."
"So you are gonna stay with Mom until then?" It was something she'd mentioned considering, mainly because she didn't want to do all those first time pregnant things by herself.
"It's only another month so ... I think so," she agreed. "I wanted ... I have this thing coming up soon and I was going to ask you to come with me, if you could. Don't worry though, I can ask Mom – she might be able to get time off."
"Ultrasound," Elaine smiled at his dazed expression. "It's so they can check the baby – make sure everything's going okay."
"I know what it is," Evan returned insistently. "I was just ... wow – you want me to come with you for that? You wouldn't prefer Mom with you?"
"She'd have school, and besides, I did think it would be nice if you could be there," Elaine admitted. "You are my favourite brother after all."
"Old joke Lainee," Evan smiled. "I'd be happy to go with you – meet my nephew. "
"It might be a niece you know," Elaine pointed out.
"Nah, it's a boy," Evan said confidently. "I've already decided."
"You've decided?!" Elaine said indignantly.
"Sure," Evan chuckled. "What? You don't want a boy?"
"I want whatever I can get," Elaine admitted, her voice going soft and almost dreamy. "A baby – healthy and happy and hopefully just like Drew."
"I think it'd be kinder for the kid if he took after our side of the family Sis," Evan said seriously, only laughing when she smacked his good leg.
"So you'll come?" she checked once he fell silent again.
"I'll come," he agreed. "I'm not going anywhere for a while yet, okay?"
"Okay," Elaine's voice was small even in the enclosed space and Evan let the subject drop for the time being. He'd decided not to tell her there was an opportunity she could talk to Drew at Travis AFB, if everything went according to plan, because if it didn't he'd rather she not know what she'd missed out on. "Exit onto Air Base Parkway," Evan instructed when they got close. Nodding, Elaine indicated, pulling off the freeway and following Evan's instructions until they were stopping at the gate of Travis AFB.
"Ma'am, Sir," the guard at the gate greeted them.
"Captain Evan Lorne," Evan held up his air force ID for scrutiny. "My sister, Elaine Rider. We're here to see Major Michaels."
"Take this road all the way to Building C. I'll let him know you're here Sir," the guard advised, raising the boom and waving them through.
"Someone you've worked with?" Elaine asked.
"Someone who knows someone I've worked with," Evan clarified. "Should help streamline things a little."
Nodding, Elaine pulled into a car park and shifted to look at him. "Should I wait?"
"Actually, I was hoping you could come in with me," Evan said awkwardly. "They usually ask how recovery's going so if you could put in a good word that might help too."
"You want me to lie?" Elaine looked both surprised and insulted.
"Of course not!" Evan shot back with a frown. "I think we'd agree I'm recovering fine – just tell them that."
"Okay," Elaine switched off the engine and got out, arriving at his side as he got his feet under him on the other side of the vehicle. "What do they do here?" she asked, looking around with interest as they walked towards the doors.
"Air Mobility Command," Evan explained, opening the door for her to go in first. "Basically they make sure that our efforts anywhere in the world have everything - supplies, personnel, maintenance - they need. That's the busiest military airport anywhere in the U.S.," he added, gesturing outside.
Another young officer manned the front desk inside, showing them with courteous efficiency to the Major's office.
"Captain," Major Garth Michaels held out a hand as he stood to greet them. About Lorne's height and maybe ten years older he had that crisp, no nonsense air that would have screamed military even without the uniform.
"Sir," Evan shook hands, stepping back and introducing Elaine.
"Have a seat," the Major invited, moving to sit in one of three chairs he had arranged around a low table.
Elaine looked around curiously, feeling a little out of place. Not that she wasn't familiar with the workings of a military base, she'd just never been in on this kind of meeting with her brother before. Sitting back she watched both men, intrigued at seeing yet another side to Evan.
"Let's talk about that request you made first Captain," Michaels began, glancing at Elaine and then back to Evan. "We are able to accommodate you here – in fact it's set for 1430 hours today, assuming that's suitable."
"More than suitable Sir," Evan said gratefully, glancing at his watch and seeing they only had about 25 minutes left to wait. It was a much faster result than he could have hoped for. "I really appreciate this Sir."
"It's not something we hand out as a reward for service Captain, but if we did, I think you'd more than qualify after your efforts in Afghanistan."
"Ah," Evan shot Elaine a quick look and then redirected his eyes to the Major. "That was just right place, right time stuff Sir." He kept it vague, hoping the other man would understand that he really didn't want his sister being treated to the gory details.
"I think it was a bit more than that Captain," Michaels smiled. "Which brings me to the second reason for requesting you meet with me today. Normally your CO would do this but since you're not on active duty at the moment and will need to be reassigned when you are, I get the pleasure of informing you that effective immediately you're being promoted to the rank of Major."
"Sorry?" Evan hadn't been expecting that, and wasn't sure he'd heard right. A rumour started by your friends on base was a long way from reality and he'd had enough on his mind lately to have forgotten Piper's teasing.
"Your record of service along with your qualifications more than meet the criteria for promotion," Michaels seemed amused at Evan's reaction. "Congratulations Major Lorne," he said.
"Thank you Sir," Evan said, bemused. Major Lorne – that was gonna take some getting used to.
"Congratulations Evan," Elaine had held her reaction in while Major Michaels was speaking but now couldn't contain herself. Jumping up from her seat she moved to hug her brother, her smile full of excitement. "I'm so proud of you," she murmured close to his ear.
"Thanks Sis," Evan hugged her back. "This isn't what I thought I was coming here for," he added modestly.
"You're keen to get back to duty," Michaels noted. Reaching for a file on the table he opened it and quickly scanned the first page. "From the details listed here I'd be surprised if you're far enough along in your recovery to return to duty just yet. Air Command hasn't indicated where they'll place you post your promotion with the expectation that it will be a few weeks yet before you're up to it."
"What about reduced duty Sir?" Lorne asked hopefully. "I might not be able to pass the full physical just yet but I can certainly take on some duties – if you have something here on base for me to do I'd be more than willing to take it on."
Major Michaels looked thoughtful for a moment before speaking. "Let's set you up for an appointment with the base doctors. If they're happy to clear you for light duty we'll see what we can find you here."
"Thank you Sir."
"Happy to accommodate someone keen to return to work Major," Michaels replied. "And you don't have to Sir me anymore."
"Ah – right," Evan shifted uncomfortably. "That's gonna take some getting used to too."
"Yeah – I still remember my promotion," Michaels grinned. "I think my previous CO ended up yelling at me to stop Siring him for god's sake. Don't worry, you'll get used to it eventually." Looking at the wall clock, he rose. "Let's get this other matter settled and then I'll show you to medical."
Evan got to his feet, motioning for Elaine to join him. "This shouldn't take long," he told her as they followed Michaels.
"That's okay Major Lorne," Elaine said with a cheeky grin. "I'm thrilled I got to be here for that."
"Me too," Evan muttered, "completely unplanned as it was."
"Through here," Michaels said after leading them down the corridor. He held the door open to a small, darkened room with a large screen on the wall and another officer sitting at a computer console. "When you're ready Lieutenant," the Major said as they entered.
Elaine followed the two men, eyes narrowed as she took in the set up. The suspicion was rising but there was scarcely time for her to acknowledge it before the screen flickered to life.
"Drew!" She burst out, rushing forward to stand in front of her husband's video image.
"Hey honey," Drew's face went from military serious to bursting happiness in a second.
"What ... how?" Elaine looked back at her brother uncertainly.
"You wanted to talk to Drew, right?" Evan motioned to the screen. "So talk ... we'll all pretend we're not listening if that helps."
"Oh God," Elaine swallowed, tears rising to her eyes. "I ... thank you for this Evan."
"Don't waste time talking to me!" Evan pointed insistently to where Drew was watching the scene with confused interest.
"Right," Elaine laughed weakly, turning back to look at her husband, her eyes taking in every detail. He looked well ... and so good the need to touch him rose sharply inside. "How are you?" she asked, suddenly feeling nervous.
"Fine," Drew's eyes narrowed as he picked up on her nerves. His eyes went to where Evan was standing behind his sister ... he noted the amused smile and relaxed a little inside. Not bad news then. That begged the question of why they were having a very rarely granted face to face chat. "How are you?"
"Pregnant," Elaine blurted out that one word, clapping a hand over her mouth, horrified she hadn't cushioned the announcement.
"What?" Drew blinked. "Did you say pregnant?"
"Yes," Elaine swallowed, trying to pick up what he was feeling from so many miles away. "Three months along ... it ah ... it must have happened that last night before you left." She watched Drew nodding silently. "Are you ... is it okay?" she asked uncertainly.
"Are you kidding?" Drew asked incredulously. "Of course it's okay – I just wish I was there so I could show you how okay!"
"Me too," Elaine sniffed back more tears, smiling as her husband finally started to grin over the news. "I'm sorry," she cried, wiping at her tears. "I've been like a tap lately – ask Evan, it's been ridiculous."
"You'll stay with your Mom," Drew stated more than questioned, "let her look out for you."
"I think so," Elaine didn't take umbrage with his ordering her around when he wasn't there to look after her himself. "It's nice having the company ... not that we don't have friends at Cold Lake but they're not ...," she trailed off with a shrug.
"Family," Drew finished. "I'm sorry I'm not there with you Elaine ... for both of us."
"It can't be helped," Elaine said bravely, "and you'll be home soon, right."
"Two minutes Ma'am," the young Lieutenant manning the controlled announced with an apologetic tone.
"Of course," Elaine looked at Drew, tortured over what to say with so short a time left before the connection was cut. "I love you," she said softly.
"I love you too honey," Drew returned without hesitation, his eyes fixed on his wife. "I know you'll take care of yourself until I can get back there ... tell 'junior' I'm thinking of both of you."
Elaine sniffed again, managing a watery "okay."
"Evan," Drew looked at his brother-in-law intently, noticed for the first time that he was looking much better than he had the last time Drew had seen him.
"You don't even have to say it," Evan said before Drew could ask anything of him.
"I know," the two men shared a simple look. "I owe you one buddy."
"I have to close off the connection now Sir, Ma'am," the lieutenant said.
"Keep me up to date," Drew said quickly, raising his hand in farewell before the screen went blank.
"Bye," Elaine whispered in a sad little voice.
"You okay?" Evan moved closer to his sister, putting a hand on her shoulder.
Without a word she turned, throwing her arms around him. "I can't believe you did this! Thank you!" She kissed his cheek once and then again and for once he didn't pull away, content to let her express her emotions ... and her love.
Back at home a few hours later Evan was once again sitting in the living room, his leg elevated, the room quiet and just starting to get dark with early evening. Elaine had gone to take a nap before their Mom got home, the emotion of the afternoon and the unexpected tiredness of early pregnancy too much for her.
He liked the feeling of having accomplished something that day – he'd used up a few favours in the process but it had been worth it just for the look on Elaine's face when she'd first realised what they were at Travis AFB for. She'd been so happy to have spoken to Drew and finally shared her news that she hadn't even given Evan grief over surprising her with the video call.
He must have dozed himself because the next thing he knew his Mom was gently shaking him awake.
"Hey," he said, rubbing his eyes tiredly. "You just get home?"
"A few minutes ago," Grace smiled, seeing so much of her little boy in the man before her ... in the sleepy blue eyes and tousled hair. She couldn't resist ruffling that hair lightly, smiling when he raised an eyebrow at her quizzically. "I was surprised to find both my children sleeping soundly before dark."
"Elaine was tired," Evan explained their afternoon's activity quickly, leaving out the bit about him being promoted for now.
"How did Drew look?" Grace asked hopefully.
"Stunned at first, then happy," Evan summarised. "He's fine Mom – not a scratch on him."
She nodded, relieved. There were a few moments of silence and then Grace leaned down and kissed him, ruffling his hair again. "You're a good man Evan."
"Mom," Evan protested, for form really because he was smiling the whole while.
Chapter 2: Do you hear that?
Mid July 2002
"So what's the deal here?" Evan asked, holding the medical centre door open for his sister and then following her inside.
"I don't exactly know," Elaine admitted. When Evan looked surprised she said a little defensively "It's not like I've ever had an ultrasound before and it's not the kind of thing you can research on Google. I know the mechanics of it but the process is still a little mysterious."
"Well tell me the mechanics then," Evan persisted, standing beside her as she signed in at the front desk and was told to take a seat to wait for her turn.
"Okay," Elaine smiled, sitting down and shifting slightly to watch him as she explained. "This is the one scan most women have – they check lots of thing ... the heart and lungs, organs, limbs. They take measurements of all the important bones too. They can actually monitor blood flow Evan ... from me to the baby and then within the baby too. It's amazing."
"Yeah it is," Evan agreed softly. "What else?"
"If I want, we can find out the sex of the baby," Elaine offered, smiling slightly. "I emailed Drew a few weeks back to ask him if he wanted to know ... he said I could decide for both of us at the time."
"That's generous of him," Evan muttered. "No pressure for you then!"
"No, it was nice," Elaine insisted. "It's like a gift to me because he isn't here so we can't do that spur of the moment thing depending on how everything goes. Drew wanted me to have that anyway – that if I really feel like the time is right to find out, well then I don't have to worry that he'll be disappointed."
"Well I guess it's a surprise whenever you find out," Evan conceded. "Do you know what you're going to do yet?"
"I was thinking maybe I'd find out," Elaine said uncertainly. "It's such a big milestone, getting past 18 weeks, mainly because you can't find out the gender before that – the parts don't develop before then," she added before he could ask why. "God, I can't believe I'm almost half way there already!"
"Yeah, I can't either," Evan looked at her pointedly. "You don't exactly look like a four and half month pregnant woman Elaine."
"And of course you're an expert on what one of those should look like," Elaine shot back, laughing when he winced. "I know I'm not showing that much but I can't wear any of my old skirts or pants anymore." She put a hand on her slightly rounded stomach. "Junior is definitely making his or her presence known."
"His," Evan insisted with a smile.
They both looked up to see one of the ultrasound technician's waiting for their attention.
"You can come through now," the technician said.
"Okay, here we go," Elaine said nervously, grabbing Evan's hand and dragging him along with her. She knew it was probably silly feeling nervous but at the back of her mind was the worry that things wouldn't go well, that they'd find something wrong. Until she saw the image of her baby with her own eyes she couldn't relax and enjoy the experience.
"It'll be fine," Evan said in a low tone, squeezing her hand and then letting go when they stopped outside one of the small scanning rooms.
Inside it was dimly lit, the space dominated by the bed and the equipment sitting ready next to it. Evan looked around quickly for somewhere out of the way he could sit, going for inconspicuous.
"Mrs Rider," the technician began. "I'm Sally Banks, I'll be operating the equipment this morning. Hop up on the bed here and we'll get started."
"Elaine please," Elaine invited, sitting uncertainly on the edge of the hospital bed. "This is my brother Evan ... my husband is stationed overseas at the moment."
"I'm just here for moral support," Evan got in quickly.
"Well, take a seat here anyway Evan," Sally nodded to the chair right beside the bed as she urged Elaine to lie down and then matter-of-factly raised the shirt Elaine was wearing to reveal her pregnant tummy. "I'm sure being the future Uncle you'll want to be right up where the action is."
"Not especially," Evan muttered under his breath, quickly looking away from his sisters exposed stomach and earning a narrow eyed glance from her. "Of course I do," he regrouped, speaking firmly. "I'm looking forward to seeing my nephew firsthand."
"Or niece," habit had Elaine adding.
"That's one of the questions I usually ask before we get started," Sally paused in tucking a towel into and over Elaine's trousers to look at her. "Are we finding out the sex of the baby today?"
"Um ... I don't know," Elaine admitted. "I was going to say yes but ... can I decide when we get there?"
"Of course." Holding up a tube of clear liquid Sally explained what she was doing as she worked. "This is a gel we put over your lower stomach to help transmit the ultrasound waves where we need them and give us nice clear pictures back - I'm going to be using a fair bit but don't worry, it's been warmed."
Elaine startled slightly as she felt the liquid squirting onto her stomach, her heart racing just a little. The screen where the images would be received was turned away from the bed initially and she didn't know where to direct her gaze.
"Okay, let's have a look at baby then shall we," Sally murmured, moving the tool through the gel and then across Elaine's stomach.
Evan couldn't see the screen either – he guessed that was deliberate so the technician could take a look at things without giving anything away – trouble was, he didn't know where to look either. Not that he wasn't comfortable with his sister but he was hardly accustomed to seeing her bare stomach protruding like it currently was. To be honest the complete alien-ness of the entire experience was freaking him out a little.
"Is everything okay?" Elaine couldn't help but ask as Sally worked quietly, manoeuvring the scanner, looking closely at the screen and then typing something.
"Everything looks just fine Elaine," Sally reassured her. "Just bear with me while I take a few more measurements and then I'll show you what I can see."
Nodding, Elaine closed her eyes, thinking about Drew and wondering what he was doing right at that moment. "Evan, what time is it in Kandahar?" she asked.
"After 2300 hours," Evan returned after glancing at his watch. "It's about a 12 hour difference ... he'd be sleeping unless he's on call."
"Your husband's in the military?" Sally asked curiously.
"Yes," Elaine said proudly. "He's over in Afghanistan at the moment."
"It's a shame he wasn't here to see this," Sally said gently, turning her screen so Elaine could see the image displayed there.
"Oh ... it looks just like a baby," Elaine was hardly aware of what she said, all her focus on the grey, grainy but completely recognisable image of a baby, curled up and sleeping.
"Ah, that's because it is a baby Sis," Evan was also captivated by the image. His sister's unborn child – his nephew ... or niece. A living, breathing, person who appeared to be ... "is it sucking its thumb?" Evan asked in wonder.
"Looks like it," Sally smiled. "We get that a lot around here – mostly from the foetuses." Putting a hand on Elaine's forearm she squeezed lightly. "Let's get you a photo you can take away. I'll give you a couple of extra copies so you can send them to your husband."
"Thank you," Elaine got a little wobbly around the edges then – Evan was surprised she hadn't' gotten teary eyed the instance she'd seen the ultrasound image.
"Here," he handed her a tissue from the box close by, watching as she wiped away tears and gave him a watery smile.
"What do you think?" she asked, eyes back on the baby.
"I think it's amazing," Evan said sincerely. "I mean, it's a little person already. And that profile – it looks just like you Sis."
"I'll have to give my report to the attending Doctor," Sally said, finished doing what was required to get the photos happening, "but my assessment is that the baby looks healthy and is developing well. Let me show you a few things."
She manipulated the scanning device and then angled the screen even closer. "This is the baby's heart – see the four chambers?"
Elaine nodded, her expression captivated as she listened closely.
"Shall we ...," Sally trailed off, leaning down to twist one of the dials on her equipment.
Sound filled the room, an echoing "woh, woh, woh, woh," that was rapid and rhythmic.
"Is that ...?" Elaine asked, hopeful and awed.
"Your baby's heart beat?" Sally asked. "Yes it is."
"Is it supposed to be that fast?" Evan spoke before he thought about how Elaine might take the question.
"Yes it is," Sally smiled. "It's in the perfectly normal range. A baby's heart beats faster than a fully grown adult ... about 140 beats in your baby's case."
"Evan, do you hear that?" Elaine grabbed his hand and held on really tight, her eyes brimming with happy tears.
"I hear it," Evan was hard pressed to keep his own voice steady. It was just ... incredible. They were actually listening to the heart beat of a person who hadn't even been born yet ... and not just any person, Elaine and Drew's child. It staggered him ... humbled him ... and awed him, all at the same time. "Hang on," he said when Sally moved to switch off the sound again. Taking out his phone he used it to record a few seconds of soundtrack before switching it off again. "You can send it to Drew," he said when Elaine looked at him quizzically.
"Thank you," she sniffed again, wiping a hand under her eyes. "I seem to be doing that a lot lately – thanking you."
"It's okay," Evan replied. "Besides, I've opened a tab."
"Oh you have not!" she smacked his arm in exasperation.
"Maybe not – but I will if you keep thanking me for stuff I'm happy to do," Evan said more seriously. "Stuff I should be thanking you for letting me be a part of."
Elaine sniffed, squeezing his hand, nodding. "What else?" she turned back to the technician, eager to see more of her baby. Sally seemed happy to oblige, pointing out all the major organs – they looked like black shapes inside the grey graininess to Evan but he didn't point that out – the placenta and the cord, showing that blood flow Elaine had already spoken off. And limbs - legs and arms and the spine - all there to be seen.
Apart from actually hearing the baby's heart beat, Evan's favourite part was when Sally highlighted the baby's hands and feet, again because they looked exactly like well ... hands and feet! Evan wasn't sure what he'd expected to see – maybe something not quite as 'human' looking, not quite as fully formed – but he was glad he hadn't mentioned his expectations because Elaine wouldn't have let him forget it.
"Have you decided on finding out the sex?" Sally asked at one point.
"Do you know what it is?" Elaine stalled, suddenly not sure at all what she should do. God, she wished Drew was there!
"Yes," Sally said simply. "Although we never say with one hundred percent certainty, it's been a long time since I've heard of a technician getting it wrong."
"I think I'll hold off for now," Elaine decided after thinking for a few moments. "I just ... I want something left for us both to discover when my husband gets home ... together."
"Understandable," Sally smiled. "Lots of first time parents enjoy the surprise of finding out when the baby is born." She showed Elaine a few more things and then sat back. "Just let me go and get those photos for you, and get the Doctor's sign off," Sally concluded, switching off the machine. "You're free to tidy up and wait in the waiting room."
Elaine watched her go before turning to look at her brother. "Do you think Drew will be disappointed?"
"With what?" Evan frowned uncertainly. "I'd say he'll be disappointed he wasn't here, but everything else will be welcome news." He grinned as he held the door open for her, following her out into the waiting room. "I on the other hand am disappointed you didn't find out what you're having. You know that means you're in for another few months of me calling it my nephew right?"
"I saw your face Evan," Elaine said loftily. "This baby already has you wrapped around its tiny little fingers, regardless of its sex."
"Maybe," Evan allowed, a smile playing over his face.
Sally returned to the waiting room, giving Elaine the all clear, and an envelope containing the precious photos. They were both quiet as they got back in the car to drive home ... Evan glanced over at her as she drove, noting the way her eyes strayed wistfully to that envelope.
"Three weeks Sis," he said softly. "He'll be back in three weeks."
"The three longest weeks ever," Elaine replied, but she was smiling as she focussed back on the road.
Back home that night, after Elaine and his Mom had both gone to bed, Evan sat up, still wide awake. It had been one of those days he knew would stand out in his mind for years to come. Elaine had already scanned in those photos and sent them along with the audio to Drew with a long email ... and regaled their Mom with a blow by blow account of the scan. So those Evan usually confided in were already in the know ... but still, the knowledge was bubbling away at the back of his mind and he felt the need to express it somehow. It was times like these, even years later, when he missed John the most. Drew and Evan had always been best friends but that was different than his friendship with the oldest member of their training group. Somehow John had always known exactly what to say, sometimes before Evan even understood what was troubling him.
He was sure John would have words of wisdom to offer now too ... something about trusting that Elaine, Drew and the baby would be okay, that Drew would come back in time to welcome his child into the world.
Then he'd point out that Evan's own future was also enhanced by the expansion of his family into the next generation.
Not that he thought otherwise ... but there was a part of him that couldn't help but worry about 'the tone' of the world right now, that couldn't help but think maybe it wouldn't improve anytime soon. When it came down to it maybe he just didn't like thinking about his nephew growing up in that world. It wasn't something he'd talk to Elaine or his Mom about, and under the circumstances not something he could talk to Drew about either.
But there was someone he could kind of talk to ... jumping up purposefully Evan went to start his computer.
Excuse the email address – I'm still on medical leave so I'm using my Mom's machine. They're forwarding my emails here so I did get all of yours – and yeah, I should have made time to reply before now. Thanks for keeping me up to date on what's going on with the 389 – sounds like you're doing great as wing leader ... just like I knew you would.
Not sure if Drew had a chance to tell you – if not then go congratulate the new expectant Dad. Yeah, my sister is pregnant and sometime in early December I'm gonna be an Uncle. I went with her for her first scan today ... and now I'm sitting here way too late in the night, thinking about it. It was amazing Piper – the fact that I got to be there and just the reality of the latest change in my family. I don't know why I'm not totally consumed with the excitement and happiness that's cushioning even the absence of Drew for my sister right now. Don't get me wrong, I'm happy for Elaine ... and for myself. I want to be an uncle ... I don't really understand why that's not enough. It's not about me – it's about them, so maybe it just comes down to worrying about that. I'm not used to my sister being vulnerable like this ... nor to Drew being under threat, certainly not when I'm sitting back home safe and sound.
God, listen to me – I sound like I think the world revolves around me! It doesn't and worrying about things I can't change isn't my usual thing. And even though you're not right in front of me telling me to get a grip and stop being ridiculous, the fact that I'm imagining exactly what tone of voice you'd use is enough to bring back a little perspective. And please don't tell Drew how self indulgent I've become over here - I can do without more stuff I'll never live down!
Be careful over there ... there's still a chance I'll be back at some stage.
PS Your rumour from the day before I left turned out to be true ... I went into Travis AFB a few weeks ago and found out they're promoting me. Kind of feels unreal too – because I'm not stationed anywhere I guess ... although they've finally found me something do to – only light duty, at Travis. I'll let you know how that goes when I get to it.
Subject: Re: News
Get a grip – and don't be ridiculous. The whole world doesn't revolve around you and you should focus on being there for your sister.
And yeah, I'm laughing right now.
Seriously, congratulations on your imminent status as an Uncle. I did speak to Drew after I got your message and congratulated him. He's fine Evan – disappointed to be missing out on these first months of his child's existence but pretty excited there's a child for him to be missing all this stuff with.
You can't protect him ... and you can't protect your sister. Not from the day to day things that could go wrong and not from the big picture stuff, like there being a war for us to be fighting over here. It's as simple and as complex as that. And now there'll be another person you feel compelled to take under your protective wing ... you just need to get used to having as little influence over their big picture as you do over everyone else's. You'll do what you can ... which will be a hell of a lot ... and there's nothing more anyone would expect. It's the way of the world and has been for too many generations to count. If we all waited until everyone was comfortable bringing a child into the world then there'd never be any babies.
That's the best I can do on words of wisdom – hope it helps. Keep recovering ... we need you over here.
PS I can't believe you waited this long to tell me you got promoted! You ass! I'll give you the benefit of the doubt since you're still on the injured list and say congratulations Major ... wow, Major Evan Lorne – looks good doesn't it?! I'm happy for you and proud of you – but it's nothing more than you deserve. Write soon, okay.
This chapter was kind of the entire reason why I wrote Campaign Kandahar and this story - all because of one line in Impressions (Kavan's SGA audio drama for anyone who hasn't heard of it). In there he comments on her husband being away a lot and of going with his sister for her scan and hearing the heart beat of a person who hasn't even been born yet and that it was amazing. That really inspired me, hence using the line almost word for word in the story.
Chapter 3: A month ... that's not so bad.
Late July 2002
"Major," Evan didn't turn around at first – his new title still sounded like it belonged to someone else and so still caught him by surprise at times. "Major Lorne?"
"Sorry - yes Lieutenant?" Evan looked up from the maintenance schedule he and two younger officers had been reviewing to the young woman waiting for his acknowledgement.
"You have a phone call at the front office Sir," the woman reported.
"Okay, thanks," Lorne frowned, wondering who'd be calling him at work. Pulling his mobile phone from his pocket, still the same one Elaine had given him for his birthday a couple of years back, he checked the display. "Damn," he muttered, seeing the blank screen. He'd forgotten to charge it the night before.
Evan had been assigned temporarily to the 15th Expeditionary Mobility Task Force at Travis. Given the importance of supplies and personnel into and out of Afghanistan he wasn't too unhappy with the placement, even though it was a little outside his field. It was light duty that gave him the time and energy to continue his PT so it suited him from that angle too. Nodding for the others to continue without him, Evan strode quickly from the room, down a couple of flights of stairs and across to the office.
"Sir," the phone was held out to him with a smile.
"Sorry to bother you at work honey," Grace Lorne's voice had his insides freezing - his Mom never called him at work.
"Mom - what's wrong?" he asked before she could say anything else.
"Everything's fine," Grace reassured him. "You told me to call you if Elaine heard anything about Drew's arrival," she reminded him.
"Right, sure," Evan relaxed, leaning against the wall as the relief hit. Elaine had received official confirmation from Cold Lake AFB that Drew would be returning from Afghanistan on the 25th July - only a couple of days to go. She'd packed up and gone home to be there when he arrived, despite both Evan and their Mom urging her to wait, to have Drew come visit them for a few days first. "He's back already?"
"That's just it," Grace said, the concern predominant in her tone. "Elaine just got an email from Drew saying his tour has been extended ... another 4 months. She'd upset and confused and ...,"
"And you were hoping I could find out what happened," Evan concluded, frowning at the news. As far as he'd been aware Drew's squad had all served their allotted time and were being replaced with another wing from Cold Lake.
"Could you?" Grace asked hopefully.
"No problem Mom, leave it with me," Evan agreed. "I'll let you know what I find out."
He barely waited for his Mom to acknowledge that and say goodbye before he hung up and immediately dialled another number.
"Canadian Forces Base Cold Lake, how can I help you?"
"Can you put me through to Captain Cade Boston please?" Evan asked.
"Who may I say is calling?"
"Tell him it's Evan," Lorne replied, shifting from foot to foot as he waited for the connection. His leg was pretty much fully recovered now - he just felt a twinge in the muscles when he stood in one place for too long but that was it. In fact, he'd been hoping to make his next fitness test for the end of the week so he could get passing it out of the way and then get back to flying.
"Evan," Cade's familiar voice on the line refocussed his attention. "It'd good to hear from you buddy but we've got a situation here so this'll have to be quick."
"A situation?" Evan's eyes narrowed. "Would that be something affecting Drew's return from Afghanistan?"
"Damn, Sorry!" Cade returned. "Your sister - I should have thought of that! I would have called you but it's been a mad house here since yesterday. I'm sorry Evan."
"It's okay - just tell me what happened so I can fill Elaine in," Evan requested. "She got a message from Drew but apparently it was pretty light on details so she's confused and understandably upset."
"Right - you'd know we have three fighter wings planned for rotation through Afghanistan, four months each tour," Cade sounded purposeful as he explained. "We'd pretty much completed training for the one replacing Drew's wing - did the last training exercise yesterday. We still don't know what happened Evan ... one minute they're up in the air, doing fine, the next there's a collision and we've got two pilots ejecting, both pretty badly banged up. We had no choice but to rescind the relocation order for Drew and the others."
"Are your pilots okay?" Evan asked.
"They will be," Cade returned. "But they won't be shipping out any time soon and we just don't have anyone trained up to replace them. Even if we push forward the schedule for the third rotation it's gonna leave a big hole here. That's not all of it - we don't have the replacement aircraft either, not without leaving the base seriously under resourced."
"You know Elaine's pregnant right?" Evan focussed on a spot on the wall opposite him, wondering how he was going to make this better for his sister, or even if he could.
"Yeah, Drew emailed me a couple of months back," Cade admitted. "I know this sucks for her but my hands are tied here. I wish I could give you better news."
"Not your fault," Evan pointed out. "She'd due early December so he's gonna be cutting it pretty fine to get here in time."
"I can let my CO know the situation," Cade offered. "An alternative might turn up to get Drew home a little earlier."
"Thanks Cade," Evan said gratefully. "If you could keep me in the loop too I'd really appreciate it."
"No problem," Cade replied. "I have to go - I'll let you know when I hear anything."
Hanging up Evan stared at the phone for a few moments before dialling another familiar number.
"Hello," Elaine's voice brought a smile to his face, even under the circumstances.
"Hey Sis," he said in a light tone.
"Evan, did you find out anything?" Elaine got straight to the point.
"I did," he admitted. "Listen, I spoke to Cade. They had a training accident there yesterday - it took out two of the four pilots in the wing swapping for Drew's. They just don't have anyone to replace them right now."
"So Drew's really not coming home," Elaine's voice was small but it pierced his heart just the same.
"He's coming home Lainee ... just not ... right now," Evan returned. "Cade's going to talk to his CO, let him know your situation. Something might come of that."
"Drew's message said November - late November," Elaine pointed out, her breath hitching. "I'm due the first week of December Evan! I ... I really," she sniffed, "... he's missing everything!"
Evan waited, listening to her crying on the other end of the line and feeling useless. "I'm sorry," she finally calmed down enough to speak again. "I know I'm not the first military wife to be having a baby while her husband's overseas ... it's just ... I almost wish he'd never been scheduled to come back this week ... there were so many things I had planned and now I'll have to do them by myself."
"You could move back to Mom's," Evan suggested gently.
"No," Evan winced as he heard that stubborn edge in her voice. She was upset but clearly angry too and when she got that way nothing swayed her decisions.
"I thought you might say that," he replied. "Listen, Cade's gonna let me know as soon as he hears anything. But you call me if you need anything, okay."
"I need Drew home but that's obviously not going to happen any time soon," Elaine said stubbornly.
"Lainee," Evan pleaded for her to relent a little.
"Fine, I'll call you if I need anything," Elaine retorted. There was a moments silence and then she sighed. "I know it's not your fault Evan. And I know this is the kind of thing I signed on for when I decided to marry into the military - but that doesn't mean I have to like it."
"I guess not," Evan agreed. "I'll let you know if I hear anything new okay?"
"Okay." Lorne was just about to hang up when he heard her calling for him to wait. "Are they okay? The pilots who crashed?"
"Cade said they're banged up but they'll recover," Evan revealed. "He didn't give me names so I don't know who it was."
"Drew would know," Elaine said softly.
"Yeah, he would," Evan agreed. Drew would know those pilots and he'd be frustrated being so far away and not being able to see for himself that they were okay. That and being forced to give Elaine bad news via an email wouldn't be sitting well at all.
"I'll go see them," Elaine decided. "That way I can reassure Drew that they'll be up and back in the air in no time."
"Sounds like a good idea," Evan smiled, proud that she'd put herself into someone else's shoes so quickly - not that he'd say that to her of course, she'd just tell him off for patronising her.
Evan said his goodbyes and was about to hand the phone back to the desk clerk when he remembered he'd promised to let his Mom know the situation. Another quick call took care of that until finally he was free to return to his work. There was nothing else he could do, not that day at any rate.
He'd returned to the job but couldn't get his mind off his sister's plight. He stewed over it for a few days, days when he called Elaine regularly and got assurances that she was fine, even though her tone said anything but.
By the time the end of the week rolled around and his fitness test loomed he'd decided what he was going to do.
"Major Lorne," Doctor Brian Yorke greeted Evan when he walked into the infirmary on time.
"Doc," Evan returned with a faint smile. He'd been checked regularly by the base doctor since he'd returned to partial duty at Travis AFB and the two men had formed a friendship of sorts.
"Ready to get started?" Brian asked. He'd gotten to know the Major over the past few weeks and knew the younger man was more than ready to be passed for full duty again.
"Yes, Sure," Evan said, wondering why he suddenly felt nervous. He'd had a full physical and taken the fitness test every year for fifteen years and had never had a problem passing. But he'd never been injured as badly either – never spent so much time on medical leave and then partial duty and that was enough to make a guy nervous.
"Right, well let's get the physical out of the way first," Yorke began.
Lorne patiently sat, stood, stretched, and in every other way followed the doctors instructions as he went through the long series of checks required for an air force flying physical. Everything was checked ... everything ... it was kind of intrusive but at the same time never left you wondering if you had some medical condition that hadn't come to light yet.
"Okay Major, all done," Yorke finally announced. "You've recovered well for all your injuries ... regained full mobility on your shoulder and leg ... you're lucky the scaring is so minimal, particularly that burn," he tapped Lorne's forearm where the phosphorus burn was still visible. "I know it still stands out like a sore thumb but that's healthy healing colour – when it's gone you'll hardly have any physical reminders of your time in Afghanistan."
"Thanks Doc," Evan wasn't the vainest guy around but it was still a relief that he'd come out of something that could have been lethal in such good shape.
"Right – fitness test," Yorke clapped his hands briskly and then motioned for Lorne to follow him.
Evan understood exactly what was involved and what to expect. Cycle ergometry - the Air Force cardiovascular fitness standard since 1992 – was all about measuring your VO2 rate, how well your body used oxygen. The VO2 MAX score was the maximum volume of oxygen the body could consume during intense, whole-body exercise, while breathing air at sea level. The test was predictive – the number you achieved during the test was used to predict your fitness level, using your heart rate response to a given level of work. Measuring oxygen consumption indirectly measured an individual's maximal capacity to do work aerobically - and you had to meet a certain standard to be fit for duty.
"I assume you know the drill Major," the doctor said, waving a hand for Lorne to get started.
"Yeah, done a few of these over the years," Evan agreed. The ergometric tester looked very similar to an exercise bike, except that it was white, had a covered section at the front where the wheel would usually show, and including curved handle bars to hold on to that assisted in taking the required measurements.
"Good," Yorke consulted his testing sheet, "the standard for a male in your age range is 32 – that's the minimum number you'll need to pass Major."
"Right," Evan muttered, getting on the machine to check the seat height and then off again to make a quick adjustment.
"We'll only be taking you to 75% of your predicted maximum heart rate," the doctor continued with the necessary explanation. "Stop if you feel dizzy, faint, or short of breath. You can also stop the test at any time, for any reason. Start cycling to warm up."
Lorne began cycling, warming up slowly until he'd gotten up sufficient speed to practice the required pace of 50 rpms.
"We'll begin the test now," Yorke said, changing the resistance on the bike to account for Evan's current heart rate. Throughout the test he'd continue to monitor Evan's heart rate, blood pressure, and the signs and symptoms of how he was coping.
Lorne was already into a nice rhythm – he was giving it everything and it felt good, the exertion itself and how his body responded smoothly. He'd gotten back to his daily run, and done pleny of sessions in the gym but it was only then that he really believed there would be no lingering after-effects of his injuries.
At the three, six, nine and twelve minute marks the doctor changed the resistance on the bike ... in between times he was taking other measurements and giving Evan a rating of perceived exertion – how well or otherwise he thought Lorne was handling the test.
"Okay, let's cool it down," Yorke finally announced. Evan continued to pedal for another 3 minutes, slowly reducing speed until he brought the bike to a smooth stop.
"How'd I do Doc?" he asked, breathing hard. He took the towel the doctor offered, wiping the sweat from his face before draping it around his neck.
"Passed with ease Major," Yorke revealed, smiling when Evan let out a small woo hoo of delight.
"So I'm free to get back to work full time, to get back up in the air?" Lorne confirmed.
"Yes, although I'd recommend an easy flight before you start putting your body under excessive g-forces," Yorke offered.
"That's exactly what I hoped you'd say," Evan grinned when the doctor looked puzzled. "Would a flight from LAX to Canada fit the bill?"
"That's what ... two, two and a half hours straight flying?" the doctor queried thoughtfully.
"Something like that," Evan admitted, hopeful he'd get the green light.
"I'll give you clearance Major, but no hot dogging," Yorke finally agreed.
"I never hot dog," Lorne insisted, grinning over the positive result.
"Be sure that you don't," the doc insisted, "because I'll revoke your flight status if I hear otherwise."
"Thanks Doc," Evan held out a hand, shaking Yorke's hand firmly, "and thanks for looking after me the past few weeks."
"You're welcome Major," Yorke returned. "Good to have you back among the fighting fit."
It wasn't as simple as just getting medical clearance, he had to convince Major Michaels to release him for a couple of days and he had to locate a plane free for him to fly. But Lorne was determined and never took no for an answer, even if he was subtle in his stubbornness.
And so, the following Monday morning Evan was strapping himself into the cockpit of an F-18, preparing to fly to Cold Lake Alberta. The situation itself had helped him get what he needed – his plane one of three being loaned by the U.S. Navy to the Canadian government, and specifically to the Cold Lake base to help them fill the gap the training incident had left. Since ultimately they'd be used in the war effort in Afghanistan it was in the U.S.'s best interests to assist their allies.
Lorne had needed to call in a bunch of favours to get one of those three chairs in the cockpit – because he hadn't flown a Hornet for a while and because the Navy had pilots already up to speed. He'd gotten the nod, confident he'd slip back into the F-18 with ease – a confidence that was born out in reality.
"Tower, this is Cougar One requesting clearance for takeoff." Evan couldn't help the small grin as he made his request to air traffic control at LAX. Man, did this bring back memories! The Navy had been good enough to get the plane he was flying to LAX - the other two were being flown direct from their present location, meaning Lorne was doing this as a solo run.
"Cougar One, Tower, you are clear to proceed, runway fifteen alpha."
"Tower, Cougar One, acknowledged." Lorne followed the directions, was held at the runway for a few minutes and then cleared to power up and take off.
In the air, the miles and the minutes passed as he flew over familiar terrain ... it had been a while since he'd personally flown into Canada but with regular visits to Elaine and Drew since their marriage he knew the route pretty well.
The long flight wasn't exactly taxing on Lorne's mental resources and he found his mind wandering in a number of directions. Chief amongst them was his concern for Elaine and Drew ... not that something would happen to them but that their first experience with children was somehow being ruined by events outside their control. Drew was missing things there was no way to get back ... and Elaine was spending too much energy worrying about her husband that she should be using preparing for the birth of her first child. And while it didn't affect him intimately, they were the two most important people in Evan's life and he wanted more for them than they were currently getting. It irked that he couldn't do anything about it too.
Lorne was thinking about the what next too ... he'd been promoted sure but so far hadn't actually taken on a new role with any degree of permanency. And he'd heard nothing from Air Combat Command about where they were going to place him. That wasn't necessarily unusual, especially because the end date for him recovering wasn't something you could set in concrete in advance, and they had the added complication of needing to man up in Afghanistan.
He wanted to go back to Kandahar ... he just wasn't sure it was going to happen. He'd been away long enough for them to replace him on the 389 and they'd already have the next wing rotating in to replace Piper and the others training in preparation. As he approached Cold Lake and radioed the Tower for clearance he acknowledged once again the basic inconsistency of his life. Evan Lorne was a man who liked being in control, in an occupation that put that control firmly in the hands of his superiors. He did what he could to influence it but at the end of the day his job was to obey orders ... getting promoted just got him one step closer to being the guy who gave the orders.
"A Major Lorne is here to see you Sir."
Evan waited outside the door of the base commanding officer, not having made an appointment but hoping to be seen anyway.
"Send him in."
"You can go in," the Lieutenant said unnecessarily. Evan nodded, a faint smile in place as he walked through the door.
"Evan!" now Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Baker greeted him with a pleased smile.
"Sir," Lorne returned, stepping forward and shaking hands with his former CO.
"When I saw your name on the manifest for today's inbounds I wondered if you'd stop by, pay your respects," Baker said, his eyes twinkling.
"There's no way I could visit Cold Lake without coming to see you Sir," Evan returned blandly.
"Of course not," Baker agreed, his expression turning serious. "I suspect this time however your motives aren't exactly one dimensional.
"Ah ... no Sir," Lorne grimaced slightly.
"Well, have a seat then and let's talk," the Colonel waved a hand to the chair in front of his desk, retaking his own seat and leaning back to regard Evan curiously. "You're looking well."
"Fully fit," Lorne confirmed, not surprised Baker had known about his injuries.
"And wearing a new title too," Baker continued. "Congratulations Major."
"Thank you Sir – I'm still a little surprised myself," Evan said modestly.
"From what I hear you blew up half an al-Qaida village Lorne," Baker returned, smiling when Lorne almost winced. "That wouldn't have surprised me except they tell me you did it from the ground. Tired of dropping bombs are we?"
"No Sir," Lorne denied briskly, unable to resist adding "and it was only one building Sir. Given the situation I had no choice but to go in there on foot."
"Maybe," Baker watched Lorne intently as he continued, "maybe not. But there's no doubt you did well son."
Evan wasn't sure he had a response to that ... there was pride there in his former CO's tone to balance out the teasing. He'd expected the later but found himself floundering to accept the former.
"So, tell me, what can we do for you today?" Baker was amused at Lorne's reaction ... for a man who'd accomplished so much already in his career Evan Lorne still had humility and modesty in spades. That made Thomas proud too but he knew better than to mention it – Lorne was already embarrassed enough with his praise.
"I was sorry to hear about the training accident Sir," Evan began. "And not just because it indirectly affects me ... now more than ever both of our countries need all their pilots and planes in top condition."
"Both pilots are recovering well," Baker offered. "The investigation is still ongoing of course but the preliminary assessment suggests a malfunction in one of the jets rather than pure pilot error."
"That's good news," Lorne shifted, leaning forward a bit as he got to the crux of his visit. "I don't need to tell you how the incident affects my family Sir. Drew was only a couple of days short of returning home and instead it sounds like he'll be in Afghanistan for another four month tour. My sister's due the first week of December so there's a chance now he won't make it home before she has the baby." He paused, meeting the Colonel's eyes intently. "I was hoping to enlist your support for bringing Drew back sooner rather than later." Baker said nothing at first and Evan felt compelled to continue. "If there was any way to arrange it Sir I'd happily take his place over there so he could come home right now."
"Very generous of you," Baker finally commented. He looked at Lorne thoughtfully for a few moments before sitting forward. "I don't think that's going to be a solution your government will go for Evan, although I will raise it higher up the chain and see what response I get. In the mean time the best I can promise it to look for a replacement pilot for Captain Rider from our own ranks."
"Thank you Sir," Lorne had mixed feelings about the outcome and that showed in his voice.
"We've already decided to bump up the training program for the third rotation," the Colonel continued. "Now that we have replacement jets they can begin."
"So, if all else fails, Drew will still be back before December?" Evan clarified.
"I can't promise anything Evan, but I'll do my best to make that a reality," Colonel Baker replied.
"Okay, thank you Sir," Evan said again.
"We still think of you as one of ours Major," Baker said lightly, "and we look after our own. You tell your sister we'll do our best to get her husband home before she has that baby."
"I will Sir," Evan stood, holding out his hand. "Thank you again Sir."
"No problem Major," Baker stood too, shaking the younger man's hand firmly. "It's nice to see some things don't change."
"Sir?" Lorne frowned, trying to interpret the context of that.
"You're still a devoted brother and a loyal friend," Baker said simply, "both core to the values we hold dear at Cold Lake."
"I look back on my time here fondly Sir," Evan returned sincerely.
"Any time you want to defect we'd be happy to welcome you back Major."
"I'll keep that in mind Sir," Lorne replied, smiling slightly. "It's always good to have other career options ... just in case."
"It was good to see you again Evan," Baker concluded.
"And you Sir," Evan took that the mean the end of his meeting, nodding respectfully before turning on a heel and exiting the older man's office.
It had been good to see Colonel Baker again ... the man had been supportive of Evan from day one and had been there in the past when he'd needed help. That helped Lorne look at the result of his meeting in a positive light, because he trusted Baker to do everything he could to live up to his words.
Having done all the paperwork to conclude his business at the base Lorne caged a ride from one of the maintenance guys. There was still something he had to do before he returned to duty.
"Evan!" Elaine's jubilant voice was all the greeting he'd hoped for. As she threw herself forward to envelope him in a hug his mind was assaulted with assimilating all the changes he noticed. She looked tired sure but also seemed to have an aura of suppressed energy about her ... Evan hesitated to label it a 'glow' because that was too much a pregnancy cliché for him. But she did look ... vibrant. Her face had filled out a little and her skin was translucent, she looked delicate – and there could be no doubt anymore as to her state of pregnancy. Her 'bump', though still small, pushed forward as if announcing itself, leading the way as she urged him to come inside.
"I can't believe you're here," Elaine commented happily once they were both sitting on the sofa in her front room, grabbing his arm and squeezing fondly in an excess of emotion.
"Why wouldn't I come visit my sister?" Evan returned.
"Because you only just got back onto full duty," Elaine pointed out. "How'd you manage to get leave so soon?"
"Ah – I'm not actually on leave as such," Evan admitted. When she looked at him quizzically he shrugged. "They needed a couple of Hornet's flown over from the States so I volunteered to fly one."
"You volunteered," Elaine repeated slowly.
"In a manner of speaking," Evan replied. "I wanted to speak to Colonel Baker myself and it made sense to kill two birds with one stone."
"You talked to him about Drew didn't you?"
"Of course I did," Evan frowned, trying to assess her reaction. She wasn't spitting mad that he'd tried to interfere but she didn't exactly look happy either. "I just wanted to see what the chances were of Drew getting home earlier than he told you in his message."
"And did you find out?" Elaine's tone wasn't hopeful but Evan could see the spark of interest in her eyes.
"Colonel Baker couldn't promise me anything," Evan began, "but they are trying to find someone to replace Drew and if that fails, they're already training the wing that would have rotated there after this current stint. They should be ready to deploy in a month or so. It's not as good an outcome as I hoped for but it's something right?"
"A month," Elaine said wistfully, her vision turned internally. Evan let her silence reign this time, waiting patiently for her to process the news. "A month ... that's not so bad," she finally said, smiling slightly.
"No it's not," Evan agreed. He refrained from saying it would go quickly because he knew, for Elaine anyway, it wouldn't. Drew would be caught up in missions and the adrenalin rush that went with that but Elaine was stuck living day to day life with the huge gap that existed because of his absence.
"Thank you," Elaine shifted forward and hugged him tightly.
"I didn't do much," Evan replied as he hugged her back. "It sounded like Colonel Baker was going to do all that regardless of whether I asked or not."
"Maybe, but I still appreciate that you came," Elaine insisted, resting her head on his shoulder.
"Anytime Sis," Evan promised. "Anytime."
Fitness and physical test information from usmilitary.about.com
Chapter 4: Wouldn't have missed it for the world
Early August 2002
In Cold Lake and with time to kill before his commercial flight home the next day ... officially off duty there was no reason Lorne couldn't make a couple of calls, see what he could organise. He had Elaine's approval – hell, she'd practically ordered him to find something to do, pointing out she'd be in bed before 9pm and he'd be bored by himself. It was still early - hardly lunch time and while Elaine puttered around doing whatever it was pregnant women did when they were puttering around, Evan sat in her living room and picked up the phone.
"Cade," he called the younger man first because Cade was the closest in location. If he couldn't swing a night out there was little hope anyone else would be able to.
"Evan, hey," Cade replied. "I was wondering when you were going to call – heard you were in town."
"Official business, now done," Evan explained. "You free for a few hours this evening, after 2100 hours? I thought it'd be good to get the boys together."
"I'm in," Cade agreed immediately. "Neil's a few hours away even by air but I'll give him a call anyway. Paul might be able to get a flight up from Winnipeg. Marcus maybe too, I can't remember what his flight schedule was like. I'll call him first – it'll take him a few hours to drive up from Edmonton if he is in town right now."
Even though all the Cougar's from Evan's class were located in Canada – Drew obviously being absent for the moment - in distance they were a long way away which made getting together in the one place difficult. Paul Merlin had stuck to search and rescue and was part of a team out of the 17 Wing – the 425 transport and rescue squadron – from Winnipeg CFB on the west coast. Neil was still out at Bagotville - east coast this time - with the 425 tactical fighter squadron. So far Evan hadn't heard anything about their smaller fighter pilot resources being engaged outside of Canada. Marcus worked for Air Canada, a Captain doing international and domestic flights around the country. He was based out of Edmonton though which made him the closest to Cold Lake, aside from Cade who'd remained there attached to the 410.
"Great," Evan grinned. "I'll just put my feet up here then - wait for you to get back to me."
"You do that buddy," Cade shot back. "Sounds like you've gotten too used to living the easy life."
Chuckling at the familiar dose of ribbing, Evan ended the call and did exactly what he'd said. He'd gotten up very early to make it to the airport for his flight, and with the time difference already felt like he'd done a full day. Yawning, he put his feet up on the table and just let himself drift.
"Are you awake?"
Evan cracked open an eye to see his sister standing in front of where he was sprawled on her couch. "Am now," he muttered. If the clock was to be believed he'd been asleep for a few hours and it was now late afternoon.
"Then you can come and see something," Elaine grabbed his hand and pulled insistently.
With a groan he let himself be prodded into full wakefulness and followed his sister down the hallway.
"Ah - I've already seen the spare room," he told her carefully.
"I know," Elaine pushed open the door of the small room, full of still unpacked boxes, furniture that didn't fit elsewhere and a collection of art stuff she had no where else to store. "What do you think?"
"Of what?" Evan frowned, looking down at his sister.
"The nursery silly," Elaine insisted, wrapping her hand around his elbow and bouncing a little.
"It's a little cluttered - I don't think he'll fit," Evan said seriously.
"Funny," Elaine smacked his arm, getting a chuckle in return. "And it could be a girl!"
"Could be ... but isn't," Evan insisted teasingly. Looking around, he nodded, imagining what it could be. "It's nice," he decided. "Good light," he nodded to the window, "cosy but not too small. With a little paint, some baby stuff - it'll be perfect."
"I think so too," Elaine smiled wistfully. "We'll do it up ... when Drew's home."
"Sounds like a plan," Evan said simply. He put an arm around her and hugged her close. "How about I take you out for dinner?" he offered after a few moments of silence.
"Really?" Elaine asked, surprised.
"Sure," Evan moved her out of the room towards the living area. "It's still early - I'll have you home long before bedtime."
"Okay," Elaine said softly. It was times like these she loved her brother so much it overwhelmed her. How did he always know just the right approach to take with her? She'd been all set to mope at home, to catalogue in her mind all the things Drew would miss in the month until he came home. Not that she wouldn't do that anyway, once Evan had gone back to the States ... but not tonight, and the reprieve lifted something inside her.
"Let's go then," Evan didn't let her stop to fuss with herself, quickly steering them both out the door.
While he'd been out with his sister Cade had called with a favourable report on the availability of the others. And so it was at just after 2100 hours that Evan walked into the local bar.
"There he is," Paul Merlin stood and held out a hand, shaking Evan's firmly. "Good to see you buddy."
"You too," Evan slapped a hand to the other man's shoulder before moving on. "Neil - you made it!"
"Yeah," Neil grinned happily, not even thinking to mention the flight he'd had to cage to get there, or the one he'd have to get up super early for the next day to make it back to duty on time. "Wouldn't have missed this for anything."
"Marcus," Evan turned to the only civilian in their group. The two exchanged handshakes and it was just Cade left for him to greet. "Bashful!" Lorne smirked as he said it loudly.
The others laughed as Cade mock punched Evan before shaking his head. "I know you got some fancy call sign from your Yank mates but you'll always be 'Love' to us, right boys?"
"I'm not listening," Evan put his hands over his ears as the others loudly agreed, laughing.
Settling down they all took seats around a large table, first round of drinks in hand. Lorne just sat for a moment looking at his friends. "Man, it's great to see all of you," he said sincerely.
"You too," Marcus returned. "The way Drew told it you were lucky to come back from Afghanistan at all."
"He's a drama queen," Evan insisted. "It wasn't that bad."
"Hey, what is it, two months of medical leave? That sounds pretty bad to me," Paul pointed out.
"Okay, sure, maybe I wasn't at my best, but I'm back to full fitness now," Evan offered lightly. "So, all's well that ends well, right?"
"Well, let me speak for all of us and say we're glad of it," Marcus said simply, raising his glass. "To pilots staying in their cockpits!"
Everyone laughed and then raised their glasses too.
"Hey, there's something else we have to toast too," Neil kept his beer high. "To your promotion Evan - congratulations."
"Major Love Lorne!" the rest replied while Evan cringed.
"I appreciate the attention guys," he shifted uncomfortably after the toast, belying that statement, "but it'd be much nicer if I could hear about what you've all been doing since I spoke to you last."
"Paul's got his own SARs squad now," Cade offered, smiling.
"Nice," Evan nodded approvingly. "I won't say about time even though we all know that's true."
"Thanks buddy," Paul accepted the others using that as an excuse for another toast with amusement. "We all know about Drew and Elaine expecting a baby but from what I hear, someone else at this table is newly on the expectant father list too."
Neil's face breaking out into what could only be described as a gleeful grin announced pretty clearly who that someone was. "We just found out last week," he offered, still grinning. "Sarah told Kate?" he asked Paul, speaking of their respective wives, and getting a nod of agreement. The two had gotten close over the years to the point that sometimes they shared the gossip before the boys even knew about it.
"To another Somerton!" Everyone took another long drink.
"Thanks," Neil was still smiling pretty big.
"And what about you?" Evan turned back to Cade. "You got any big news to share?"
"What, you mean apart from him being engaged?" Neil said, grinning as Evan shot him a stunned look. "Yeah, you're the last of the bachelors now buddy," he confirmed. "Kind of unexpected given you were the one with the 'Love' call sign."
"Yeah," Evan shrugged absently, turning to Cade. "Congratulations," he said sincerely, raising his bottle. "To the future Mrs Bashful Boston!"
They all completed the toast ... and their first round. "I'll get the second," Evan said, getting up and making his way to the bar.
He'd ordered and was waiting for the five beers when Marcus got up to join him. "You okay?" he asked simply.
"Sure, why wouldn't I be?" Evan frowned, confused.
"Because you liked the fact that Cade was keeping you company in your determined singlehood and now he's not," Marcus returned.
"I'm happy he's found someone," Evan insisted.
"Didn't say you weren't," Marcus agreed.
"And it's not putting pressure on me," Evan continued impatiently. "Nothing says I can't be single while the rest of you do your married with kids thing."
"Agreed ... but isn't it interesting you're thinking like that?" Marcus queried sagely.
"Look, it's not like I have any prospects right now, nor do I want any," Lorne said a little defensively, taking the beers the bartender gave him and leading the way back to their table. "I can't even tell you what I'll be doing next week – not exactly ideal for anything long term."
"You mean you still don't have a real job?" Neil joined in the conversation as Evan and Marcus sat down.
"Not yet," Evan took the subject change gratefully. "I'll probably hear something when I get back - now I've been medically cleared for full duty."
"You think they'll send you back ... to Afghanistan?" Paul asked.
"They might," Evan shrugged. "I can't say for sure ... and I don't know what affect the promotion will have on that. When I left my CO made it pretty clear I had a spot over there if I wanted it."
"And you want it," Marcus concluded.
"Yeah," Evan admitted. "I can make a difference over there, you know?"
"Janet wanted me to ask how Elaine's handling the extended absence," Marcus shifted topic slightly. Of the group he and his wife had probably spent the most time socially with Drew and Elaine, Elaine forming a friendship with Janet Price that mirrored the friendship between the men.
"She tells me she'd fine," Evan said, "but what else is she gonna say? I've managed to be there for a couple of her doctor's appointments – only quick fly in and fly outs – but that doesn't do much to fill the gap. It's tough but Elaine's doing okay. Wouldn't hurt for Janet to give her a call though."
"I'll pass that on," Marcus agreed.
"Thanks," Lorne acknowledged gratefully.
"So, how bad was it over there?" Paul asked seriously, bringing the conversation back to Afghanistan.
"It had its good points and its bad points," Evan admitted. He went on to tell them the full story of his run in with al-Qaida on the ground. "It doesn't make much of a dent, stopping that production. They've probably already got something else up and running."
"But if they're smart it won't be WP," Cade pointed out.
"Yeah, if they're smart," Evan agreed. He hoped it was true - that his involvement had resulted in a real improvement.
Conversation moved on after that, back to all the reasons they had to be grateful for the lives they were leading ... fiancés and wives, children growing up and on the way, and friends who mattered.
"We'll have to do this again when Drew gets back," Evan murmured, getting a here, here and raised bottles from everyone in response.
"To Drew," Cade proposed.
Life it seemed had a way of delivering the highs to go along with the lows. Lorne was home the following weekend, still none the wiser about his next posting and wishing he could find out so he could move out of his Mom's house. Not that he minded living there with her – and he certainly couldn't justify getting a different place or staying on base over the weekend when she was so close to Travis. It probably had nothing to do with where he was living; he just wanted to be settled and was tired of doing what now felt like an easy job.
He'd taken to fixing a few things for his Mom – making up for all the times when he wasn't around – and was up on a ladder cleaning out gutters on Saturday morning when he heard his name called.
Swivelling and looking towards the ground Evan grinned. He was down the ladder and approaching their visitor within seconds. "Piper!" He hugged her quickly and then stepped back to get a good look at her. She was dressed in civvies and looked well, if a little tired. "Why didn't you tell me you were coming back?"
"Wanted to surprise you," Piper grinned, well pleased with herself. "Got the news our tour was over only a week ago. I'm not due back at Mountain Home for a week so I thought I'd stop by here on my way home."
"Well it's great to see you," Evan said seriously. "Did you see Drew before you left?"
"Yeah," Piper put a hand on Evan's forearm. "He really is doing okay Evan," she said earnestly. "Missing home and Elaine of course but he's not lying when he tells you he's handling it."
"Thanks," Evan nodded, putting a hand on her elbow and turning her towards the house. "Come in and meet my Mom."
Inside, his vision darkened from being out in the bright sunshine, Evan walked through to the living room where his Mom was busy grading some papers from school.
"Mom," he drew her attention, smiling when her expression got very interested once she realised he'd brought a girl into the house. "This is Piper – Captain Piper Jones. Piper, this is my Mom, Grace Lorne."
"Mrs Lorne," Piper moved forward and shook his Mom's hand.
"Grace, please," she replied with welcome. "You're in the air force too?" she asked curiously. She didn't often get the chance to meet her son's friends ... and certainly not in recent times.
"Hell no!" Piper grinned across at Evan. "U.S. Marine Corps and proud of it Ma'am."
"Huh – you wouldn't be saying that if they took away your jets," Evan pointed out. "Then you'd be lining up to join."
"You were over in Afghanistan with my son?" Grace couldn't conceive of what it took for a woman to undertake the role she knew Piper had – and her respect for Evan's friend grew even more having met her in person. It was hard not to imagine a romantic connection between the two – be it hope that he'd have the sense to pick someone like Piper or the strong bond she could see existing between the two - and she watched each of them carefully for clues to support that hope.
"That's right," Piper agreed casually.
"Piper took over the three eight nine when I got shipped back Mom," Evan explained. "Did a great job on all accounts. You on a rotation plan to go back in a few months?" he asked Piper.
"I don't know yet," Piper said evasively. "Actually, that's part of why I'm here. I was hoping that you might be able to spare a couple of days, come back to Idaho with me."
"Everything okay?" Evan frowned, concerned.
"Better than ... I hope," Piper returned, still evasive.
"I was just about to make coffee," Grace could see the other woman wanted to talk to her son and wanted to give them some space. "Can I get you something Piper?"
"That would be lovely Ma'am, thank you," Piper smiled.
"All right," Grace put a hand on Evan's shoulder as she passed.
"So tell me," Evan invited once they were alone.
"This is going to sound crazy but I'm getting married tomorrow ... I hope ... and I want you to stand up with me," Piper looked at him hopefully. "Will you?"
"You hope?" Evan's gaze narrowed as he considered his friend. "What does that mean?"
"Rob doesn't know yet," Piper admitted in a rush. "You know what it's like Evan – over there you get plenty of time to think about your priorities and recently I've been thinking about mine and I realised something. It's past time for me to create something more permanent here – I've been putting it off for my career for too many years and Rob has just let me. Now it feels like that was a mistake and I ... I don't want to waste any more time."
"Does he know you're coming home?" Evan asked.
"I thought the surprise might help," Piper said defensively.
"What, he's so happy to see you, you can slip in a marriage ceremony and he won't notice?" Evan asked incredulously.
"Okay, when you put it like that it sounds silly," Piper laughed. "Look, it's not like Rob doesn't want to marry me – he asked me after all. But he'd usually argue for the full deal, doesn't want me to miss out on anything, and I don't want that. If I don't give him time to think about it he's more likely to react with what he wants ... I need that."
"Understandable," Evan nodded.
"So, can you get away for the weekend?" Piper asked hopefully.
"For you, of course," Evan grinned. "Your timing is great from my perspective. I just passed my fitness test but they haven't reassigned me yet and I'm not back on duty until Monday afternoon."
"Thank you!" Piper jumped up and hugged him.
"All right, all right," Evan laughed, pretending to suffer through her affections until he looked up to see his Mom standing in the doorway, two mugs in hand. "Hey Mom – Piper's getting married tomorrow."
"That's wonderful," Grace buried her little flash of disappointment as she put the mugs down. "Congratulations dear."
"Thank you Ma'am," Piper smiled happily. "I booked tickets Evan – just in case - so we need to get to the airport before lunch time."
"Okay, I'll just go pack a bag," Evan said, getting up. "Talk to my Mom – be back in a sec."
Piper watched him disappear down the hall and then turned to Grace. "I hope you don't mind me stealing him away for a couple of days."
"I'm used to Evan coming and going all the time," Grace said good naturedly. "It's been a while since he lived here and I haven't gotten used to that."
"He looks well," Piper commented, remembering how he'd looked the last time she'd seen him – in a hospital bed in the Kandahar infirmary. "He's really fully recovered?"
"From the little he tells me, yes," Grace smiled. "If you know my son at all you'll know he's not renowned for talking about himself."
"No," Piper laughed. "It took him about two months to tell me he and Drew were related."
"That sounds like Evan," Grace shook her head. "The stories I could tell you about him as a boy."
"I'd love to hear some of them."
"No you wouldn't," Evan returned in time to hear the tail end of his Mom's words, "and luckily we don't have time anyway." Going to her he bent low, hugged and then kissed her cheek. "I'll see you Sunday night Mom, okay. I've got the phone if you need to contact me."
"Have a safe trip," Grace stood when Piper did. "Congratulations again Piper," she added.
"Thank you Ma'am," Piper replied. "It was wonderful to meet you," leaning closer conspiratorially she continued. "Evan's always been so well grounded and sure of himself – and wise, you know? Now I can see why."
"Oh, what a nice thing to say!" Grace smiled fondly, liking this friend of her son's even more.
"Okay, enough with the parental charming," Evan took Piper's arm and moved her towards the door. "See you later Mom."
"Bye dear," Grace chuckled as she watched them leave.
Flying into the domestic airport at Boise, Idaho a few hours later, Lorne looked around with interest. "Man, it feels like years since I've been here," he commented as they moved towards the hire cars.
"I know," Piper smiled as she took in the familiar sights.
Evan took care of the paperwork and the driving ... Piper probably wouldn't admit it but her attention was clearly on other, less practical matters.
"He's gonna go for this," Evan said reassuringly, eyes on the road as they drove down the I-84. Piper and Rob - Robert O'Hara - had a house in the small town of Grand View, only a short distance from the Mountain Home base.
"How can you say that - you've never met him!" Piper pointed out.
"Maybe not," Evan agreed, "but if he had the good sense to hook up with you then he must be a smart guy."
"Thanks," Piper almost sighed at the compliment. They shared a proper military friendship mostly composed of carefully worded insults to each other's affiliated organisation and teasing on the surface but Evan always knew when to leave that behind and say something meaningful and sincere. "I can't believe how nervous I am about this," she admitted.
"That's because it's important to you," Evan returned. Taking her direction he pulled off the highway and headed towards the town. "No matter how confident you are, that alone's gonna have you feeling jumpy."
"I should have done this years ago," Piper shook her head. "You always think you'll have time enough to do everything you want but the time has a way of slipping past. I'm lucky Rob is so patient and supportive."
"I'm sure he's proud of what you do Piper," Evan grinned as they reached the main street. "This is nice," he said, taken by the historic feel of the small town.
"You'd go crazy living here for more than a few days," Piper retorted. "Grand View – population 400."
"Doesn't mean I can't appreciate it while I'm here," Evan said lightly. "Okay, so which way now?"
Piper gave him directions until they pulled up outside a small house, grass struggling to grow in the front yard, paint peeling off the exterior, sedate car parked in the driveway. "Rob's really busy with his practice," she excused, referring to her fiancé's law business. "With the travel time into Boise and all the case work he does at home, neither of us have time for home maintenance."
"It's nice," Evan repeated his earlier words, switching off the engine. "Show time," he added.
"Right," Piper felt the rush of excitement and almost bounced out of the car. Her nerves were swamped by the joy of being home and only seconds away from seeing the man she'd loved exclusively for years.
Leaving Evan behind she rushed up the walk and to the front door, knocking rapidly. It had barely opened before she was throwing herself at the man who'd opened it. "Rob!" Pressing kisses to every inch of his face, Piper half laughed, half cried at how quickly he moved from stunned surprise to active participation. Losing herself in the moment she completely forgot everything around her, including Evan who walked slowly up the drive after her.
Lorne watched the scene fondly, hoping one of them would notice him before it got embarrassing. Clearing his throat loudly he waited.
"Oh, God, sorry!" Piper broke away from her fiancé, grabbing his arm to keep him close as she turned to Lorne. "Rob – this is ...,"
"Evan," Rob finished, stepping forward and holding out a hand. "I recognise you from Piper's descriptions. It's nice to meet you."
Evan had to look up a long way to greet Piper's fiancé – he was tall, easily six three, and looked fit, despite his desk job. Dark haired and blue eyed, Rob had a look about him that said he didn't suffer fools lightly. Evan already knew various details about him because while they'd been in Kandahar together Piper had talked about Rob, particularly after getting a letter or an email from home. Piper had described him as purposeful and confident and then laughed as she'd added that it meant he was stubborn and opinionated and never, ever gave in when he knew he was right. Lorne had silently decided he sounded exactly like the kind of man Piper needed – otherwise she'd run rings around and over him.
"You too," Evan shook hands firmly. "I can go find something else to do – give you guys a chance to reacquaint." He realised suddenly that turning up with Piper like this wasn't the best idea – surely the guy would be wondering why Piper would bring a friend back with her for a personal reunion.
"No!" Piper protested.
"It's okay," Rob said at the same time, "although I am wondering why you're here, no offence."
"None taken," Lorne said blandly. "Piper," his brow rose as he silently urged her to step up to the plate.
"Right," Piper turned to Rob resolutely. "I didn't tell you I was coming back because I wanted to surprise you."
"Well I'm certainly that, so mission accomplished," Rob leaned down, kissing her quickly. "And?"
"And I brought Evan because he's going to be our best man," Piper said rapidly.
"Sorry?" Rob frowned, confused.
"We're engaged, right?" Piper waited for Rob to nod. "So at some point that has to translate into actually getting married. I don't want to wait anymore Rob."
"You want to get married ... now?" Robe asked incredulously.
"Tomorrow will be soon enough," Piper allowed. "I did some research before I left Kandahar – we can get a license in Boise in the morning and then have the registrar marry us on the same day. Evan can be our witness." She waited for a response and then continued. "So ... what do you think?"
"I think you're possibly the smartest woman on the planet," Rob picked her up and hugged her, pulling her close to kiss her some more. "God I missed you."
Evan grinned, happy for both of them. "I'll just ...," he trailed off, realising neither of them were listening. "... go sit in the car," he muttered under his breath.
His second stint as best man couldn't have been more different from his first. No long lead up involving too much fascination with clothes and accessories. No speech to give ... no crowd of people to contend with. Just the duty of witnessing the love between two people and the commitment it had led to. After the magic words "man and wife" had been uttered Lorne had broken into a pleased grin, moving forward to congratulate Piper and Rob.
"I know you'll be very happy together," he told Piper after hugging her and shaking Rob's hand.
"I certainly plan to!" Piper laughed, her happiness beaming out of her for all to see. "Thanks for doing this Evan."
"Wouldn't have missed it for the world," Evan returned.
"We appreciate it just the same," Rob insisted.
"Okay – time to celebrate!" Piper kept her arm linked with her new husband's even as she grabbed Evan's hand and urged everyone forward.
"Did you have a nice time dear?" Grace asked when Evan walked in the door late Sunday night.
"Yeah," Evan grinned, taking a seat on the couch across from her. "It was all of the good things about a wedding without all the crap – don't tell Elaine I said that."
"Of course not," Grace smiled. "I liked your friend."
"She's a keeper," Evan agreed.
"It's a pity you didn't meet her years ago," Grace commented casually. "Does she have a sister ... or a friend just like her?"
"Mom," Evan laughed. "Piper and I would have only ever been friends regardless of when I met her – we know far too much about each other to be anything else. And I'm gonna have to deduct points for that less than subtle approach."
"I just want to ...," Grace trailed off. "She's the kind of girl I've always pictured you with," she admitted instead. "Someone who can share in what you do but still be feminine enough that you feel needed."
"Really?" Evan's brow rose as he considered that. "Piper's great Mom but there was never a spark. I'm more than happy with the friendship."
"I know," Grace couldn't help but think Evan was so busy being 'the friend' that he'd end up missing out on being 'the man'. She sighed. "You can't blame a mother for hoping though, can you?"
"I guess not," Evan put his feet on the table and just as quickly removed them when she frowned at him. "Want to watch a movie?" he asked, changing the subject. Picking up the remote he began switching through the channels looking for something interesting.
Grace smiled, content to spend this time with her son. She'd felt time rushing up to meet them for weeks – what was left of it before he'd be shipping off somewhere new again. "It's good to have you home," she said softly.
"Good to be home," Evan said absently.