Chapter 5: This isn't Independence Day
Late August 2002
"So I hear they finally gave you a real job." The response to his hello delivered by a familiar voice had Lorne grinning into the phone.
"Marcus! Hey – how's it going?" he replied. He frowned, wondering why the other man was ringing – not that they didn't talk regularly but it had only been two weeks since their boys night.
"You know the commercial airline business," Marcus Price dismissed lightly. "Runs like clockwork as far as us pilots are concerned."
"I guess it does," Evan agreed. "Janet and Riley okay?"
"Yeah - Janet's still spending most of her time chasing after Riley," Marcus said with a chuckle. "For a two year old he's running our entire household with one hand tied behind his back."
"Not that I've ever thought about it but I'm guessing they don't call them the 'terrible twos' for nothing," Lorne commented.
"No they don't," Marcus said feelingly. "So, you finally got posted more permanently?"
"I did," he answered, thinking back to the meeting he'd had with Major Michaels the monday morning after Piper's wedding. Since then his life had taken another turn into the unexpected – his current posting at the heart of that. "Back at Nellis if you can believe that," he continued, "part of the Groom Lake facility this time so it's different enough to not feel like I'm going backwards."
"No way! Area 51?" Marcus asked incredulously. "You're stationed at Area 51?"
"You're joking right?" Lorne laughed. "This isn't Independence Day Marcus," he added with amused sarcasm. "They don't call it Area 51 and as far as I've seen they're not hiding little green men, or for that matter aliens of any other colour, on the base."
"So, what're you doing there then?" Marcus asked curiously.
"Classified," Lorne couldn't help the grin when he said that. Sometimes that was a blessing – that you were restricted from talking about your work to anyone – because it meant you didn't have to explain things you hardly understood yourself. Like his current job.
"I don't know why I asked because I knew you were gonna say that!" Marcus grumbled. "Is it flying or are you branching out with the ground troops? Can you at least tell me that?"
"It's aircraft," Lorne admitted. "That's really all I can tell you."
"So you're not going back to Afghanistan?" Marcus asked. They'd all talked about it when they'd been together and Evan hadn't discounted the possibility. At that point he hadn't known the results of Colonel Baker's inquiries.
"Not for the time being," Evan agreed. "You know the military business – stability isn't in the job description."
"True," Marcus agreed. "And there's no word on when Drew's coming back?"
"Not so far," Evan admitted. "Cade mentioned the training wasn't going as well as expected but he couldn't say what the impact would be on Drew's return date."
"And Elaine's okay with that?" That Marcus was asking after Elaine wasn't a good sign because it probably meant she'd been isolating herself at home instead of following her usual routines.
"I thought so," Evan frowned. "I take it she hasn't spoken to Janet yet?"
"No. Janet called and left a message but so far Elaine hasn't called back ... Janet's worried," Marcus admitted, the reason for his call suddenly clear. His wife was worried and had put the pressure on him to find out what was going on.
"I spoke to Elaine yesterday," Evan shared, frowning. "She was a little flat but I put that down to missing Drew." He thought on the possible solutions for a moment and then nodded. "Thank Janet for me Marcus - tell her I'm handling it."
"Okay," Marcus sounded lighter now he'd gotten his mission completed. "Watch out for those aliens, man."
"Ri-ght," Lorne shook his head, unwittingly amused. "I'll do that." He paused and then said seriously. "Thanks for the call Marcus."
"No problem," Marcus returned.
As soon as he'd hung up the phone Evan made another call. "Mom," he said when Grace Lorne answered the phone.
"Evan!" Grace smiled, happy to hear her son's voice. "How are you dear?"
"I'm good Mom," Evan smiled slightly. He wasn't sure if she was more doting because she'd had her first in your face reminder of what he was risking when he'd come home injured or she was giving him the same level of 'doting'ness she always had but he was only now noticing it. "Listen, is there any chance you can get a couple of days off?"
"What's wrong?" Her immediate assumption wasn't too far off base and Evan grimaced.
"Probably nothing," he sought to reassure her. "I know we've both been speaking to Elaine pretty much every day – she sounds okay to me but I think she's burying herself in the house too much, not getting out like she usually does."
"She's missing Drew," Grace said softly, "and mourning for every stage of the pregnancy that he misses."
"I know that," Evan paused, thinking. "It's understandable but don't you think it's unhealthy for her to be so reclusive?"
"It's not like her," Grace agreed. "I suppose I could take a long weekend, visit with her for a few days."
"I think Elaine would like that Mom," Evan smiled, relieved she'd stepped willingly to the role he'd assigned her in his head. "I'll make all the arrangements and send you the details okay?"
"I am capable of booking my own trip Evan," Grace pointed out intently.
"Yeah, I know, but this way at least I feel like I'm doing something."
"You've done plenty dear," Grace smiled, never prouder of her children than when they were being so supportive of each other. "I know being there for some of her appointments has meant the world to Elaine."
"It's not a long trip Mom," Evan excused, uncomfortable with the praise when he still felt like he could do more. He'd been lucky enough to get a little extra leave here and there to help – special treatment or maybe an arrangement between Lorne's superiors and Major Baker, he hadn't wanted to risk asking for the details.
"It's not how long it took but that you made the effort at all that counts," Grace insisted. "So I'll make my own arrangements this time."
"Fine," Evan conceded, "as long as you let me know if you run into difficulties."
"Of course dear," Grace returned, feeling suddenly more like the child than the parent. When had her boy become so grown up and responsible?
I don't want to worry you but I thought you should know that Mom is going up to spend the weekend with Elaine. She's okay, all right ... but Marcus called this morning and said Janet was worried. Elaine's been hiding out a little, not returning calls ... I guess that's not unexpected but at least with Mom visiting she'll get out of the house a bit. She's really missing you Drew ... God only knows why!
Kidding. We all miss you ... and I'm only saying that here because I know you have to delete this as soon as you've read it.
Mom and I have both been calling Elaine pretty regularly but it's not like that's gonna make up for you not being here. So, any word on when exactly they're replacing you so you can come home? I know it's not inside your control and I've spoken to enough people here and at Cold Lake that even Cade doesn't want to take my calls anymore. I just think with a real return date Elaine will do a bit better with the waiting thing.
Just ... be careful okay.
PS Any news on when they'll get video calls set up there? This email thing is getting really old.
Subject: Re: Update
Thanks for the message buddy ... I managed to get a call home so I spoke to Elaine and your Mom yesterday. I really hate this – being so far away when I can hear how unhappy Elaine is. I just ... there's nothing I can do about it from here. You know, for the first time I almost wish I'd gone for something steadier, like Marcus and Cade.
The last I heard my return date had been shifted back another week ... so I'm looking at shipping out at the end of the month now. Still plenty of time to be in on the last part of preparing for Junior's arrival. Elaine keeps reminding me it could be a girl – said she'd had to keep telling you the same thing too. She's finally caved though and bought a few things for the baby – nothing big, she said she's saving furniture construction for me.
Okay, my time on the computer's up. Oh, good news on one front – FINALLY the last expeditionary mission brought in a stack more computers with clearance for video hook-up. Should be in business next week so I'll be able to talk to you on screen before I leave. Elaine was pretty excited about that – glad I had something good to tell her.
Take care of things for me ... I know I don't have to ask that, or tell you how much I appreciate it, but it makes me feel better typing it just the same.
As he'd told Marcus, Lorne's new job was about aircraft ... what he hadn't been able to mention was specifically what aircraft. His friend had joked about aliens but in some respects he wasn't that far off the mark, in so far as the jet Evan was currently test flying seemed straight off the pages of a science fiction magazine.
Walking around the experimental aircraft before the mission a few days later Evan marvelled again at what he'd landed into. He still wasn't exactly sure why they'd picked him but he'd jumped at the chance – given both his requests to return to Afghanistan had been denied. Colonel Baker had contacted him, had seemed almost apologetic as he'd admitted the powers that be had simply said Major Lorne was already slatted for a different project. Lorne had gotten the same story and was still puzzled on the real why, even after receiving his new orders to report to the Groom Lake facility. And while he would have thought their campaign in Kandahar was up there on the highest priority list for U.S. military efforts, he wasn't privy to everything going on and clearly there were things seen as equally important. Like his current project.
They called it the X-302 ... a second generation aerial combat vehicle with capabilities Lorne hadn't even scratched the surface of. It was sleek and although it certainly had elements that were classic U.S. aircraft design it was also different from anything else Lorne had ever flown. If he had to choose he'd say it was most like the F-117 Nighthawk fighter first flown in the eighties.
Even more impressive was the fact that the X-302 had been built entirely out of Groom Lake under the direction of Dr Larry Murphy, a brilliant aeronautical engineer with a long history working for the military. As far as Lorne was concerned, with the X-302 Murphy had designed possibly the greatest multi-role fighter the skies had ever seen. With its curved wing span, multi engine burners and impressive weaponry of modified AIM-120 AMRAAM air-to-air missiles and projectile cannons it was an impressive sight to behold ... and Lorne got to fly it!
The plane had the goods to back up its powerful appearance. Four different sets of engines - air-breathing jets, modified aerospikes for high altitudes, a rocket booster and another engine Lorne had been told was planned for future applications he didn't need to know about. To go with all that power was an experimental inertial dampening system and the capability for VTOL – vertical takeoff and landing.
Yeah, it sure was impressive and it had the questions lining up in Evan's mind. Some of the systems and features were just streets ahead of anything he'd seen, even in the latest developments he'd been involved with. And Lorne should know – he'd done plenty of testing for aircraft upgrades to know that what he was testing now was years ahead of where they should be. The level of secrecy around the X-302 was extreme too – he wasn't allowed to even mention that he was test flying anything, let along talk about the specifics.
The mission he was flying today was a simple one, guaranteed to get his blood pumping. All he had to do was take the aircraft into the air and push it to the limit of its speed capabilities. On the ground they'd be monitoring the performance of the engines and the inertial system, trying to iron out the bugs that still existed. On a previous test flight Lorne had proven that when pulling negative G's the inertial dampeners were only about 80% effective – still providing an easy ride for someone used to pulling 8+ Gs in an F-16 but more than the designers were willing to live with.
Finishing his pre-flight checks, a set of standard checks modified to cover the different features of the X-302, Lorne pulled himself up the ladder and settled himself inside the cockpit. It was designed to be a two seater jet just like the Falcon and the Hornet but so far all his flights had been solo.
"Flight this is Test One," Lorne reported, "ready for takeoff."
"Test One, Flight. You are cleared for takeoff on runway zero three."
Acknowledging the instruction Lorne powered up the jet, feeling that familiar rush of excitement as the aircraft roared to life. Taxiing slowly into position on one of three airstrips managed by Groom Lake, Evan paused and then slammed the stick forward, accelerating rapidly to takeoff speed. Pulling up, the 302 soared effortlessly into the sky, putting none of the usual force on Lorne's body. That actually took some getting used to for a pilot with Lorne's years of experience. Acceleration didn't push your body back into your seat; decelerating didn't throw you forward against your restraints. And throwing the jet around didn't have any of the usual effects either ... to be frank it had been a little disconcerting to begin with. Lorne had done a few missions since the first one and was much more comfortable with it now ... and the loss of familiar effects was more than compensated for by the sheer brilliance of flying the 302.
"Flight, Test One approaching twenty thousand feet."
"Test One, Flight. Proceed to speed range one."
"Acknowledged." Lorne levelled the jet at about twenty five thousand feet and then punched it forward. The speed dial climbed slowly until he reached 1,000 miles per hour. "Flight, speed range one, check."
"Test One, hold it steady for a minute and then proceed to speed range two."
Lorne did as instructed – the 302 seemed to be enjoying the ride as much as Evan was, purring smoothly as it easily kept to the speed.
"Flight, Test One approaching forty thousand feet." At the higher altitude, beyond the height flown by commercial airlines, Lorne repeated the same process, increasing the speed until the dial hit 1,500 miles per hour. Reporting in the success he was instructed to take it up to the next speed range at 50,000 feet.
"Flight, Test One now at speed range three," Lorne reported, grinning as he added "and I am officially going faster than I've ever gone before."
"Test One, Flight, well done."
"Flight, Conditions up here are perfect ... should I punch if forward, see how fast this thing is capable of going?"
There was a pause before he got his reply. "Test One, Flight. You are cleared to test full speed capability."
"Yes," Evan uttered, grinning madly. It was every pilots dream really – to fly the bolts off something as capable as the 302. Now if only he could take it into space all his aerial ambitions would be satisfied! "Flight, Test One, beginning increase in speed," he reported more decorously.
Slowly and steadily Lorne pushed the stick forward. The speed dial approached 2,000 miles per hour with ease. He was a bullet in the sky now, everything around him blurring past too fast for him to register it. At that altitude the ground was a blur of browns and greens too, the symmetry of fields and structures he was so fond of traded off for the thrill of extreme speed.
"Two thousand miles per hour," Lorne reported.
And then moments, later "Two thousand two hundred ... two thousand five ... with no reduction in performance."
The 302 was handling the speed and Evan was convinced it had a lot more under the hood – even though as far as he was aware, barring space shuttle flights and unmanned rockets, he was going faster than any manned flight on record. "Flight, Test One ... ring Guinness."
"Test One, Flight ... we can do that ... just as soon as the words 'Classified project' lose their meaning."
"Yeah, I kind of thought you'd say that," Lorne returned, smiling to himself. "A guy can hope though ... and we're officially at three thousand miles per hour. This baby hasn't even broken a sweat ... whatever the geeks put under the hood works a treat."
"We'll be sure to pass on that feedback," the flight controller replied drolly. "Test One you are advised to reduce speed and return to base for debrief."
"Acknowledged," Lorne hesitated and then continued. "I don't suppose I can throw in a few manoeuvres on the way back, test out those inertial dampeners a bit more?"
"Not today Test One," Flight replied. Evan was sure he heard a note of amusement in the return, despite the negative response.
"Right, not today," he sighed, hoping he'd get the seat for when they did the full scale stability test.
The trouble with Groom Lake was that everything was classified. There were projects going on there that only a handful of people were cleared to know the details of. And apart from the X-302, Lorne wasn't cleared for any of them, which meant that large parts of the facility were off limits to him. He'd pull into the carpark, get cleared at the main desk and then be escorted via the most direct route to the hangar where the 302 was being developed.
When he wasn't involved in test flights, debriefs and planning sessions there wasn't a lot else for Evan to do at the facility. He wasn't accustomed to sitting around though so it was lucky he'd been assigned additional duties in training the newest batch of wannabe F-16 pilots at the Nellis base. None of the geek squad at Groom Lake cared what he did as long as he was ready to hop into the cockpit when they wanted to test something and he got to keep busy so it was a win-win situation for everyone.
The training role was a departure for Evan. He'd had a mentoring role a few times in the past, most recently in Afghanistan with Lieutenant Castles, but hadn't ever conducted full scale training. Surprisingly he found that he actually enjoyed it. The audience was usually super eager, intelligent and very keen to impress – training them hardly required any effort at all.
On his way to running them through the training session on pre- flight checks ... he still remembered how much of an effort that had been when he'd been learning ... Lorne stopped when he heard his name spoken in a tone of surprise.
Turning, his brow rose when he saw who it was ... Captain Tanya Reid.
"Ace," she said with a faint smile, that careless regard along with the memory of a past attraction shining in her eyes.
"That'd be Major Ace to you Captain," Evan replied, his expression friendly but not especially welcoming.
"Of course Sir," Tanya's posture straightened instinctively as she processed what that one sentence said about their standing with each other. She was just the job to him now ... he wasn't harbouring still unrequited feelings and he wasn't holding a grudge. There wasn't enough caring there for that ... Evan had simply greeted her as she'd expect from any superior officer who recognised her from previous professional contact.
"Still assigned to Nellis Captain?" Evan asked curiously, motioning for her to walk with him as he continued towards his classroom.
"Just returning Sir," Tanya revealed. "I did a tour in Iraq, spent some time back here in the States and now I'm back assigned to Red Flag again."
"Then I guess our paths would have crossed eventually anyway," Lorne offered. When she looked at him curiously he shrugged casually. "I'm helping with training the new F-16 class ... some of whom will be good enough to take part in the next Red Flag."
"I wouldn't have pegged you for a teacher ... Sir," Tanya hastily added the address at the end. It was tough to get used to being formal with someone who'd had their hands all over you ... even when you hadn't seen them for years.
"Neither would I Captain," Lorne said with a chuckle. "I was on the injured list for a couple of months – missed the boat on another tour of Afghanistan for the moment. Besides, training is particularly important right now ... there'll be a push for even more pilots to ship out, some of them a hell of a lot younger than we were for our first big tour." Arriving at his door he nodded. "This is mine." Stopping he turned to Tanya and said sincerely "it was nice to see you again Captain."
"You to Sir," Tanya returned. Evan smiled and then turned and disappeared into the classroom, his voice greeting the students just filtering out to her.
Her mind was awash with a host of impressions ... that the additional years and maturity sat particularly well on him, that he seemed so comfortable and sure in himself ... that she'd been a total fool when she'd pushed him away – even more so because if she were honest with herself she'd still felt that rush of connection while understanding with complete certainty that he hadn't felt the same. It galled to only understand what fear had driven her to give up after it was too late to do anything about it.
Looking at that closed door for a few moments, Tanya sighed sadly and then returned to duty, hoping she'd not run into Evan again. Having your own 'version' of the past erased by a bleak present wasn't something she wanted to repeat any time soon.
Lorne had enjoyed running the six recruits through the Falcon's pre flight checks, enjoyed seeing them all so cautiously ticking each off as they practised in a simulated classroom fashion. He'd hardly given his encounter with Tanya a passing thought, until class was over and he was along, clearing away his materials.
He'd felt nothing ... genuinely ... and that was the bit that surprised him the most ... and disturbed him a little too. She'd been the first woman to find a spot in his heart and at the time he'd really thought her to be 'the one', if he let himself believe in the concept of one right person for everyone. And yet a relatively short time later he felt nothing? Did that mean he'd never loved her in the first place or was it human nature's way of making sure a person could recover from the kind of disappointment he'd felt when she'd dumped him? Clearly love didn't conquer all, despite the positive press to the contrary ...
Not that he wasn't glad he'd felt nothing – since it would have been kind of awkward not to mention inappropriate now that he outranked her. He'd seen that casual way she addressed the world drop away when he'd pointed out his change in rank ... he couldn't have not done so, but being completely honest with himself a small part of him had wanted her to be both impressed and regretful that she'd let him 'get away'.
"Next I'll be selling tickets on myself," he shook his head at his thoughts and how arrogant they sounded. What was done was done and for the better given what he'd achieved since he'd left Nellis the first time. Maybe he wouldn't have done any of that but for Tanya Reid and the push she'd inadvertently given him.
Not that he'd be thanking her for that ...
Lorne wouldn't have said it aloud but he'd wondered more than once if the fates were conspiring to challenge Drew and Elaine with Drew's absence. First had been Elaine not finding out she was even pregnant until Drew had already left, followed by the training accident that had extended his tour. Since then there'd been more than one delay due to aircraft availability and glitches training the wing rotating in to replace Drew's. So when his computer pinged him with an incoming video call in the wee hours of the morning a few days before Drew was due to come home a part of him wasn't surprised to see his brother-in-law's face pop up on screen.
"Drew," Evan narrowed his eyes as he took in his friend's appearance and expression. Something had happened .... and it was bad. The only thing reassuring him was that Drew himself seemed to be unscathed.
"I need you to do me a favour," Drew launched straight into speech without the pleasantries.
"Of course," Evan immediately replied.
"Can you get a day off?" Drew didn't wait for the reply. "I want ... I need you to tell Elaine that ... damn it!" Looking down, Drew ran hands over his face and then looked back into the screen again, his eyes glistening slightly.
"What happened?" Evan asked quietly.
"We lost one," Drew said starkly. "Lieutenant Rochelle ... barely 26, first trip away from home. It should have been simple ... fly over, shake the ground a little, be back in time for breakfast. Fucking al-Qaida with their Afghan spies!" And suddenly he was angry, the emotion fairly simmering off him. "They knew we were coming ... sent a couple of AA's after us. I should have watched his tail closer but ....,"
"Wait, you were up there too?" Evan interrupted, sitting forward abruptly.
"Yeah," Drew ran a hand through his hair tiredly and this time Evan noticed the faint tremble.
"When was this?" A pilot killed in action was front line news but Evan had heard nothing.
"Today," Drew admitted, "just got back a couple of hours ago. Debriefed, filed my report for the investigation, and then just got out of there. I haven't even told the rest of the team yet. I should be thinking about that kid and his poor family but all I can think about was how I 'm going to tell Elaine I'm not coming home yet. A kid is dead and I'm thinking about myself!" Drew swallowed hard, close to the edge of emotions they both understood too well.
"I'll tell her in person - today," Evan promised, not sure how he'd make that happen but determined to do so. He paused, watching his friend struggling with his emotions and then spoke again, gently. "She'll want to talk to you, you know that right? You can't cushion this for her ... once she sees the news reports the first thing she's gonna think is that it could have been you."
"I know," Drew said angrily. "I know all right – and yeah, I should tell her myself but ... she's by herself there Evan. I can't drop this on her, tell her I can't leave even though they'd still let me, and not be able to comfort her."
"They didn't rescind your return papers?" Evan asked in surprise.
"They left it up to me," Drew laughed harshly. "Like I'd leave the rest of my wing to deal with this alone! He was such a character Evan ... he'd get a laugh out of anyone, no matter how dire the situation. Even if he wasn't so well liked this is going to be hard for the younger guys to deal with but ... but ... he was special, you know?"
"Hard for you to deal with too," Evan murmured. Drew had been Lieutenant Rochelle's lead man for the mission ... was the Canadian wing's commanding officer for the duration. Losing a man under any circumstances was difficult, but when you felt responsible for them, when the mission success was your responsibility too it was even harder.
"I'll stay until they send someone else ... until everyone is settled," Drew revealed. Sighing, he slumped tiredly in his chair. "This whole thing is fucked up ... that kid is dead and I don't even know whether we're making a difference here."
"You are," Evan insisted, leaning forward, his tone sincere. "To the simple families over there living with the impacts of al-Qaida and the Taliban every day it does make a difference. Even just seeing a jet flying over their village gives them hope Drew ... if nothing else that has to make it worthwhile."
"Maybe," Drew allowed. "I guess I'm finding it hard to see the value right now."
"Of course," Evan agreed. "And no one would expect you to. It sucks you lost a team mate and it sucks you have to stay over there a bit longer. Nothing's gonna make that right." He narrowed his eyes, looking at Drew closely. "You look like shit Drew ... did you even report to medical after your debrief?"
"Ah ...," Drew shrugged, evading.
"If you're gonna be any help to the rest of your wing you need to set the right example," Evan took it down to duty deliberately – not to Drew's country but directly, to his team mates – because he knew nothing else would motivate his brother-in-law to put personal considerations up there.
"I know," Drew glanced behind him, looking for someone, and then back to Evan. "I'll do that in a minute – I just ... I needed to make sure you'll take care of Elaine, tell her, make her understand I have to stay a bit longer."
"I'll tell her," Evan promised. "I don't know how yet but I will get a flight there this morning – if you get the chance maybe you could call Elaine while I'm there."
"Okay," Drew agreed. "I have to go find my guys – tell them what happened."
"I'm so sorry Drew," Evan said sadly. "I wish ...," he trailed off, knowing words weren't going to cut it in the circumstances.
"Yeah, me too," Drew said grimly. He paused, leaned forward and nodded purposefully. "Thanks Evan ... I'll talk to you tomorrow."
"Okay," Evan sat there, watching the video wink out and a blank screen replace it.
A pilot getting killed in action, even one he didn't personally know, always raised the ghosts Evan carried inside. His Dad ... John ... the faces he'd never forget, the ones who reminded him to never take anything for granted. Looking at the computer clock – reading 3:30am – he wrote off the possibility of further sleep, instead grabbing the phone. He had a few calls to make if he was going to live up to his promise.
Chapter 6: I'll be home soon, I promise.
Telling Elaine that Drew had been delayed yet again had been difficult. In fact organising flights at 4am in the morning with no notice hadn't been even half as hard as that - he'd called Major Michaels at Travis and located a KC-10 transport aircraft that had undergone maintenance there and was due to begin a resupply mission to Iraq. Major Michael's had agreed to divert it via Cold Lake with the valid excuse of picking up supplies for the Canadian troops stationed in Iraq. All Evan had to do was get from Nellis to Travis in time for it's departure. Nellis was large enough that there were always flights scheduled - he'd hitched a ride in the back seat of an F-16 and arrived at Travis AFB just in time. Colonel Baker had approved the arrival of the KC-10 at his end making the entire transaction a lot easier to arrange than it should have been.
It had all happened quickly enough that Elaine hadn't heard the news before Evan got to her. She'd known as soon as he'd turned up on her door step unexpectedly that something was wrong and he'd had to scramble into hurried speech to assure her it wasn't what she was thinking, that Drew was fine.
"Drew had no choice Sis," he concluded his explanation of the situation, unnerved a little that Elaine listened to the whole thing without saying anything, without giving an outward reaction. She hadn't personally known Lieutenant Rochelle so that was one small blessing in the whole mess. "The rest of his guys are too inexperienced to be left there without half their wing – Drew's in command, it's his responsibility to bring them through this."
"How long?" Elaine asked simply.
At seven months pregnant she was still not as big as Evan would have thought someone only two months away from giving birth should be. Not that he knew – Elaine had mentioned his last visit that first pregnancies often didn't show as much as subsequent ones. He'd sent up a silent prayer at that point that if Elaine did have a subsequent pregnancy that Drew be the one close at hand while Evan was posted somewhere far away. He was enjoying getting a much closer look at the whole deal but it came at a high cost – Drew should be the one experiencing all of that and much more besides.
"How long what?" Evan asked stupidly.
"How long will it take for Drew to do all that, to be free to come home?" Elaine elaborated patiently.
"Ah ... I don't really know," Evan admitted. "They could pull the entire wing out ... Colonel Baker told me they've ironed out the bugs in training so the second rotation is pretty much ready to deploy."
"But you don't think they'll do that?"
"It might not be the best thing for Drew's wing," Evan revealed gently. "War requires soldiers to keep fighting no matter how many fellow soldiers fall beside them. I know it sounds harsh but ... removing a unit because one soldier falls would send the wrong message and it probably wouldn't be a good thing for them either. I feel for Lieutenant Rochelle's family – I'm not sure sending the rest of his wing home sends the right message to them either. All of them should have been home by now – hard not to want to blame someone for all those delays, especially if you see others returning home too easily. If they can do it now, why not before their son was killed?"
Elaine was silent for a moment, eyes on the floor as she digested what Evan had said. Nodding, she gave a little sigh and then looked up. "How was Drew taking it?"
"About as you'd expect," Evan didn't try to cushion that part. She needed to know that Drew hadn't made the decision to stay lightly, that he'd felt the conflict deeply. "You've got your computer on?"
"Yes," Elaine glanced over to the desk in the corner of the living room where she had everything set up and then back to Evan.
"Good – Drew said he'd try to call you this morning," Evan revealed. "You know he'd have told you about this himself but ...,"
"He was worried I'd be upset and he didn't want me here all by myself," Elaine concluded, a small smile appearing briefly on her face.
"Exactly," Evan moved to sit beside her, putting an arm around her shoulders. "I'm proud of you," he said, hugging her close for a moment.
"Really?" Elaine frowned. "Why?"
"Because you're not crying all over me or yelling at me," Evan pointed out. "And you'd have every right to do both."
"It's not your fault and it's not Drew's fault," Elaine said simply. She swallowed suddenly, her eyes glistening with unshed tears. "I'm just so thankful you're not here telling me it was Drew who's plane went down ... I know that sounds selfish and I'm sorry for that but I can't help it."
"Understandable," Evan returned, patting her back comfortingly.
They sat like that for a few minutes before Elaine's computer came to life. She was up in an instance, hurrying to answer the call. "Drew," she burst into tears the moment his face appeared on screen.
Evan stepped up behind her, putting a hand on her shoulder as he bent to look into the camera. "She's fine buddy," he said reassuringly. "Just happy to see your ugly mug."
"Evan!" Elaine turned and whacked his shoulder irritably, tears halted to make way for annoyance.
"That's right honey – you tell him!" Drew smiled slightly, something inside relaxing as he watched the two most important people in his life acting like the siblings they were. Under the circumstances that familiarity was a welcome respite.
"I'm so, so sorry Drew," Elaine forgot her annoyance, turning back to her husband. "I want to say so many things but they all sound like clichés in my head now."
"Just seeing you is enough," Drew said simply, his eyes tracking over her face as though he were taking a mental photo for future reference.
Evan moved away, letting them have their privacy. Pacing over to the window he looked out at the ordinary suburban street, watching as the lives of people who probably had no idea there was even a conflict half way around the world went about their daily business. Contrasts ... those who gave their efforts to something bigger than themselves as opposed to those who led a smaller but no less important life. More significant in some respects because it was for just the kind of people he could see out there that Evan and Drew and those like them fought in the first place. So that they could lead a life where losing a team mate was something that never touched them.
"Evan," Elaine's voice calling him back interrupted his musings.
"Time's up?" Evan asked, leaning down to the camera again.
"Yeah," Drew admitted. "Listen ... I don't know how many favours you had to call in to get there so quickly ... this time I really do owe you one."
"Ha," Evan grinned. "Maybe this time I might actually collect."
"Anytime," Drew promised seriously. Looking into Elaine's eyes again he continued. "I'll be home soon, I promise."
"I know," Elaine smiled. "I'm not having this baby until you're here so you have to come back soon."
"Right," Drew grinned. "I love you honey," he said, eyes twinkling with amusement as he added "you too buddy."
"Okay, no need to get soppy," Evan protested, holding his hands up as though to ward off some kind of physical manifestation of that declaration.
"I love you too," Elaine told Drew firmly, "and so does Evan, right?" She looked from her husband to her brother pointedly.
"Sure, of course, whatever you say," Evan returned with a faint grimace.
Getting in to Cold Lake via air force channels had been easy – getting out the same was not so much. In the end Evan had to take a commercial flight, the last one out of Alberta airport that evening, turning his day into an incredibly long one. He had to report for duty first thing the next morning – probably on only a couple of hours of sleep - and silently hoped he'd have an easy day. He couldn't have done anything else though and would just have to suck it up and focus on getting the job done until he could go home and crash.
It wasn't until Evan got to his room an hour or so before dawn that he realised he hadn't called his Mom to let her know Drew's situation – he'd cop grief from her for not getting in touch before he'd gone to Cold Lake but she'd understand the urgency. It was too early for him to call her but Elaine had probably already filled Grace in - in fact, he was kind of surprised she hadn't called his mobile already to find out more.
Falling face first and fully clothed to his bed Lorne just let the world drop away, asleep between one breath and the next.
The alarm going off too soon afterwards was almost painful but Evan managed to drag himself out of bed on time, reporting for duty with minutes to spare.
"They want you out at Groom Lake this morning Major," his CO at Nellis, Lieutenant Colonel Harold Larkin told him. "The request came in yesterday but they delayed for your return."
"Yes Sir," Evan nodded, spinning on his heels and turning back the way he'd come. Grabbing one of the base vehicles he drove the short distance and went through the usual routine of being signed in at multiple locations before being escorted to the X-302 hangar.
"Major," Doctor Murphy greeted Evan excitedly. "Glad you could make it ... we've tweaked the inertial dampening systems since your last flight and I don't mind admitting we're all very excited to see the results."
"Well, I'm ready to go when you are," Lorne said simply, holding in an amused smile with difficultly. The science geeks were always so .... exuberant. It was both funny and kind of endearing to see that much belief in the job ... and it helped that he understood more of their jargon than any of them probably gave him credit for.
"Excellent," Larry actually rubbed his hands together purposefully before turning and leading the way to the prototype jet.
Evan followed, running his eyes over the 302 and not noticing anything different from the outside. "Looks the same," he muttered, putting a hand to the curved wing as he looked at the scientist curiously. "You gonna give me any clues today?"
It was a routine they'd fallen into – Lorne would speculate on the purpose of the fourth engine he'd yet to see up close and never tested and Doctor Murphy would retort "classified" but still not be able to resist 'marking' him on his guesses.
"Of course not Major," Larry said, smiling.
"Okay, so ... I'm gonna go with Warp Drive today," Lorne suggested with a smirk. He'd used a few Star Trek suggestions before, knowing Murphy was quite the fan of the old and new versions of the show. Expecting the usual appreciative laugh Evan's interest was piqued when Larry gave an awkward chuckle and then quickly changed the subject.
"Nice try Major but you know I can't tell you," the scientist said quickly. "So anyway, for today's test we really want you to put the jet through its paces," he explained. "One of the reasons I wanted you for test pilot was your aerial acrobatics experience. We want you to try as many of those manoeuvres as you can."
"It'd be a pleasure Doctor," Evan returned. He was curious about the man's reaction to his innocent and teasing suggestion for that fourth engine but put it to the back of his mind in the face of what he knew would be a blood pumping adrenalin inspiring test flight. All thoughts of tiredness were forgotten as he prepped the plane, running through the checks competently and quickly. Minutes later he was pulling out of the hangar and on to one of the three runways the facility had exclusive use of.
"You're clear for takeoff Test One," Larry took command of the flight control room himself.
"Flight, Test One, acknowledged." Lorne powered up and soared easily into the sky. He took it all the way up to 40,000 feet straight up, taking away the need to manage air traffic at the higher altitude. "Flight, Test One, beginning manoeuvres," he reported.
"We're tracking you loud and clear Major," Murphy returned. "Start out with something simple."
"Right," Lorne agreed. "Test One ... about to loop the loop." He took the 302 straight up to vertical, built up more altitude and speed and then levelled it out, flying upside down for a few moments before completing the simple vertical circle. "Flight, Test One, how was that?" In a smaller plane that alone could have taken him up to 10 G's but in the X-302 was probably more likely to be in the low fives.
"Perfect," Larry replied. "Our readings indicate the inertial system worked at full capacity. How was it from your end?"
"Didn't feel a thing," Evan returned. "Odd but ... a very smooth ride."
"Excellent. Okay Test One – how about something a little more challenging. Say 6G equivalent?"
"Six G's," Evan mused, thinking. "Okay Flight ... an eight point roll should about do it." He twisted the stick, sending the jet into a spin on its own axis that at the same time covered a loop through the sky. When it was done he reported back into Flight.
"Again, perfecet Major," Larry said happily. "And from your perspective?"
"I don't know exactly how many G's that would have been but I didn't feel any of them," Lorne grinned. "Kind of freaky actually – feels a little like cheating."
"The way of the future Major," Larry intoned. "Can you give me an 8G manoeuvre?"
"Ah ... none of the standard patterns would rate that high - not in this thing anyway," Evan said thoughtfully. "It's a pity you don't have another one of these because a dogfight would definitely do the trick." He paused and then continued. "I'll give you a simulated bandit BFM ... it I take it tight enough that should do it."
"I have no idea what you just said but it sounded great," Murphy admitted.
"Right," Evan chuckled. Picturing it in his mind he made himself the bandit – the guy with a mark on his tail. Picking up speed he simulated what his first move would have been, to turn defensive into offensive position. He slammed the stick back, pulling straight up into the sky, and then quickly pulled right, really hard. The turn was as tight as he could make it, enough to get the G's up beyond eight. Everything was going smoothly and he was actually pulling out of the turn when one of the lights on his front panel began to flash.
"Ah ... Doc, looks like we've got a problem here," he said, levelling out the aircraft and noticing immediately a reduction in handling. "The ID indicator is lit up."
"We see it here Major," Larry said, his tone distracted. Lorne heard voices in the background, probably arguing over whether an Inertial Dampener indicator light meant the system was actually broken or something less concerning.
"Yeah, well that's not the only problem," Evan continued. "Instead of handling like the Rolls Royce of fighter jets this thing is handling like a mini bus ... a really heavy mini bus."
"We're reading a total systems failure on the inertial dampeners Major," Murphy's voice was worried now. "Can you power down the systems and then reinitialise?"
"Attempting systems shut down now," Evan steeled himself before flicking the mains switch, blacking out the HUD and every system inside the cockpit. He felt not unlike a stone dropping gracelessly as he lost altitude rapidly in the seconds he had to wait before he could switch everything on again. "Reinitialising systems," he reported, glad the radios ran on a separate power source.
It took a moment – too long – before the aircraft responded. Enough time for his heart rate to accelerate as he contemplated having to use the 302s untested ejection system. Everything flickered, darkened and flickered again before the jet came back to life. "Flight, Test One. We're back in business," he said, watching the panel closely. The warning light started flashing again within seconds and handling didn't improve. "Great," he muttered. "Flight, no joy on the restart. ID indicator is still flashing and manoeuvrability is restricted. Something is definitely malfunctioning here."
"Is she flyable?" Larry asked in a low tone.
"Depends on your definition of flyable Doctor," Lorne returned. "I'm bringing her back in now ... you might want to round up the emergency crews, just in case."
It was probably the hardest return home flight he'd ever done ... all the grace of the 302 reversed with the absence of its inertial dampening systems. It had been engineered to fly with them operational and although aerodynamics had been addressed with its body design, the 302 just wasn't an optimal ride when flown as a normal aircraft. In fact, it pretty much sucked – the curved wing design created extra drag, and along with the greater weight of the jet made it feel like he was fighting gravity every millimetre he flew. Wishing he hadn't taken the days test flight quite so far away from the facility Lorne grimly counted every mile travelled on the way back.
"Test One, status report?" Murphy requested.
"Flight, I'm still en route," Lorne reported. "You need to put this thing on a diet because seriously, it's like manoeuvring a seriously overweight brick."
"We'll take that under advisement Major," Larry said, amused.
Evan's forearms were beginning to ache and he could feel the strain in his back as he got closer to Groom Lake. It was a constant battle to keep the stick where he wanted it and therefore the plane on the heading and approach he wanted when it seemed to just want to drop from the sky. The engines were powerful and as long as he did his bit and kept the 302 the right way up and pointing in the right direction they kept it in the sky. He was really regretting his two days of minimal sleep though, tiring quicker than he would normally.
"We're showing you just a couple of miles out Major," Doctor Murphy said. "Emergency crews are standing by."
"Right," Lorne had the ground and the runway in his sights now. "This is probably going to be ugly," he added, dropping altitude and speed. It was still too fast – the ground was whizzing by rapidly and he was too low now to have any hope of taking the 302 back up again for a second pass. The situation called for drastic measures. Hitting reverse thrusters for a second, Evan's body was slammed back into the seat. It was like doing 100 on the freeway and then slamming on the brakes only about ten times worse, but it did the trick, dropping his speed enough to make landing possible. Yeah, he was definitely feeling those G's now and wondering why in God's name he'd even for a second missed them.
Straining with the stick, eyes on the angle of approach, Lorne kept the wings level as he slowly lowered the 302 until her wheels touched the tarmac. It would have been nice if he'd kissed the runway with a soft touchdown but he didn't. The wheels screamed and the entire aircraft bounced hard, the wheels hitting the runway a second time before sticking. Breaking hard, it was still an effort to keep the jet balanced and upright as he tried to rip enough speed off before he ran out of runway.
And then abruptly it was over – the 302 jolted to a stop and Evan sat back, panting in the pilot's seat, wondering how the hell he'd managed that.
"Flight, Test One. 302 is on the ground and mostly in one piece," he ground out, wincing as he shifted in the seat and felt the answering pain across his chest. The force he'd taken against his restraints when he'd fired the reverse thrusters had probably left it's mark, hopefully without the accompanying whip lash a car accident victim would have walked away with. "You might need to change the tires though."
"Thank you Major Lorne," Larry said gratefully. Evan knew enough to understand the X-302 was the scientist's baby – he'd have been destroyed if Lorne had crashed it. "Well done."
Evan slumped back in his seat tiredly, deciding that resting until one of the ground crew drove out to get him wouldn't be a bad thing. A jaw cracking yawn heralded the abrupt end of his adrenalin fuelled attentiveness. Man, he really needed to get some sleep!
He had severe bruising forming an interesting pattern across his chest and abdomen and a headache to accompany the pain by the time they let him out of the debriefing. Lorne considered the mission one of the worst he'd ever done but the scientists were excited now he'd managed to come back in one piece. To them failures were valuable because often you learned more from observing things going wrong than you did if they only ever went right. Doctor Murphy had shaken Lorne's hand, muttered that they should get Evan checked by the base doctor, and then completely forgotten all of that in his eagerness to run through the system readings with Evan's input.
He'd remembered at the end though, when they'd milked all the information out of the experience that they could, and had escorted Lorne to the medical bay himself. Evan had sat patiently while the doctor on duty had pressed and poked at his chest before declaring the absence of broken ribs. The whiplash had come up negative too and he'd left with a prescription for muscle relaxants and orders to rest over the weekend. He'd been told off for flying with so little sleep after admitting he'd done a round trip to Canada inside of 24 hours – but at the same time he could see Murphy was impressed that he'd managed to think so well on his feet under those conditions.
Because Evan didn't have to report to Nellis for three days he decided rather than call his Mom he'd go see her instead. That way he'd get her annoyance out of the way and hopefully get some unwitting TLC at the same time.
Her oldest turning up on the doorstep of his childhood home without prior warning was common enough that Grace Lorne hardly raised an eyebrow when she opened the door to see Evan standing there.
"Don't think a personal visit makes up for not calling your Mother young man," she warned sternly, even as she stepped aside to let him in.
"Wouldn't dream of it," Evan returned, bending to kiss her cheek on his way through. He couldn't keep a slight wince off his face as he straightened and just hoped his Mom wouldn't ask him about it. It was nice that she'd 'look after' him while he was home but there was no way he was telling her about his injuries and adding fuel to that fire.
"So, how bad is it with Drew?" Grace asked after she'd installed him in the front lounge room. "Elaine filled me in but I want the un-sanitised version."
"It's not good," Evan admitted, settling himself back carefully and trying not to look like he was being careful. "You know how hard it was when we lost John ... it's bad losing a friend in the line of duty but someone under your command? On a mission you were a part of? For Drew that's gonna take a while to get past."
"And so he stays over there," Grace commented sadly. "To punish himself because he couldn't save that young officer?"
"Maybe subconsciously," Evan allowed, "but it's more than that Mom. You serve with a group of people in an isolated situation like that and you can't help but form strong bonds – you have to trust your team mates and they have to trust you. All of that creates a strong sense of responsibility even under the simplest circumstances – Drew would be feeling that enough to override everything else right now." Evan paused, realising how that sounded. "Not that he doesn't feel responsible for Elaine," he hastened to add. "But he's trusting us to look after her while he does what he needs to do over there."
"I want him home Evan," Grace said firmly.
"I do too but there's nothing I can do that I haven't already done," Evan insisted. "There's still plenty of time for him to get back before Elaine's due date – and I honestly don't think he'd miss the birth if it's inside his control."
Grace nodded, looking thoughtful. "Can you do one of those video calls while you're here?" she finally asked.
"Sure," Evan agreed. "It might be hit and miss on getting hold of Drew but we can give it a go."
It took them a few attempts throughout the day but eventually they did succeed in getting Drew called to communications in Kandahar and on the line. Evan said a quick hello and then left his Mom to talk to Drew privately.
Grace sat in front of the camera, watching her son-in-law closely. He looked tired ... and troubled ... and her heart went out to him, this man she'd taken so fondly into her family.
"Mom," Drew's mode of surprised greeting had her smiling – it was still a pleasure to hear him call her that, particularly because he did it so rarely. "Not that I'm not pleased to see you but ... is everything okay?" he asked.
"Of course dear," Grace returned. "Elaine and Evan both filled me in on what happened to that poor boy – I needed to see for myself that you're okay."
"I'm fine," Drew insisted. "Not a scratch on me," he added grimly.
"I hope you're not sitting there blaming yourself," Grace said pointedly, "because that would be very silly. The only ones to blame are those al-Qaida people."
"It's not as simple as that," Drew protested. "It was my mission – my command."
"I didn't realise Elaine had married a God, Andrew Rider," Grace was being deliberately sarcastic now, her years of teaching students a lot stubborner than Drew giving her the experience to know what he needed to break him out of his destructive thinking. "Nor someone around whom the entire world revolves."
"I never said that," Drew flushed, shifting uncomfortably under her stern regard. He felt like he had whenever he'd gotten into mischief as a kid and his Mom had sat him down at the kitchen table to force him to see the error of his ways. She'd never quit until he'd fully admitted to all his wrong doings and their probable consequences and he was realising that Grace Lorne had the same relentlessness in her nature. "I just ...," he wasn't sure what he was doing."
"You just thought someone should be at fault so why not you," Grace summarised. "You know better than that, don't you?"
"I guess," he admitted reluctantly. He didn't add that he'd already been cleared of any wrong doing in his command of the mission even though the investigation was still ongoing. He just wasn't ready yet to take the comfort and reassurance that result offered. "Hard admitting there are some things I can't influence."
"I know dear," Grace softened abruptly. "Now, you do what you have to do over there – see to the rest of your team. And then you get your butt back over here. My first grandchild is not being born without its father in attendance, is that clear?"
"Crystal," Drew gave her a genuine smile.
"Good," Grace looked at him fondly, wanting to keep the line open but knowing the time was limited. "We miss you honey."
"I miss you all too," Drew returned. "You're a keeper, Grace Lorne, you know that right?"
"Oh, away with you, you charmer," Grace scoffed, waving a hand dismissively. "Don't you try and butter me up young man. You just look after yourself and you make sure you come home as soon as you can."
"Done," Drew promised.
"Okay ... well, we'll see you soon," Grace finished the call reluctantly, sitting quietly looking at the empty screen until Evan returned.
"Okay?" he asked, putting a hand on her shoulder.
"We will be," Grace returned, patting his hand fondly.
Evan slept late on Sunday morning, his last before he had to head back to Groom Lake. Dragging himself out of bed, he stood for a moment in front of the dresser, rubbing a hand through his hair as he contemplated the coming day. His Mom had roped him into taking her to a function at her school and he was less than thrilled at the prospect even though he couldn't tell her no. Grabbing a shirt he started to pull it on, cursing again the deep bruising that had him moving a lot slower than usual.
"Evan, are you -," his Mom opened the door and then stopped abruptly, her eyes on his partially bare chest.
"Mom!" he protested, pulling his shirt down and frowning at her. "What happened to knocking?"
"What are those?" she completely ignored his complaints, moving forward and putting a hand to his shirt.
"Nothing," he dismissed lightly.
"Nothing my foot!" Grace pulled his shirt up faster than he expected, revealing a chest that was still mostly black and blue – the pattern crisscrossing with a darker circle in the middle. "You've had these all weekend and you said nothing?"
"I had a rough landing last week," Evan admitted casually, stepping back and covering the evidence again. Putting his arm around her he steered her back towards the door. "It happens sometimes – they don't put a six point harness system in the cockpit for nothing. It hurts a little but I'm fine so stop worrying okay?"
"You come home from Afghanistan barely able to stand on your own two feet and then only weeks into a new job hurt yourself again and you want me not to worry?" Grace shook her head. "Sometimes I think I was better off before I started taking such an interest in your career."
"Ignorance is bliss huh?" Evan grinned. "See, I tried that but now you're all upset so clearly that won't work either."
"You could just stop injuring yourself!" Grace said irritably.
"No guts no glory," Evan teased, "no pain no gain."
"You're such a child at times Evan," she shook her head, trying not to be amused. "Now that you're a Major surely it's someone else's job to take these risks."
"Ah ... no, not really," Evan countered. "Being a Major just means more responsibility, more decision making." Evan didn't add that he liked it that way – that he wasn't ready to hand the risk taking over to someone else.
"So you say," Grace let herself be ousted from his room with little effort on his part. "Don't forget the party you said you'd escort me to," she added as he moved to close the door.
"I'm on it," he called back, chuckling.
The party was being held where Grace Lorne taught, at the local community college. It was an annual event celebrating the colleges opening fifty odd years before and was always well attended.
Evan stood off to one side, watching his Mom mingling with her colleagues. She'd begun introducing him to everyone after they'd arrived but when the names began to blur he'd pleaded a break and gone to get a drink. Smiling he watched as those around his Mom started laughing at something she'd said ... she was in her element here and it pleased Evan to realise it.
"She's a great storyteller," a soft voice commented from his right.
"Always was," Evan agreed, glancing over to see one of those faces his Mom had introduced him to. "Ah ... Karen, right? Creative writing?"
"Good memory," Karen complimented him. "And you're Evan – Grace's air force son."
"She talks about that?" Evan asked, surprised.
"Not often, but enough that most of us in the arts department would recognise you," Karen admitted. "She's a proud Mom ... there's nothing wrong with that."
"Not unless you're the one she's talking about," Evan muttered. Looking more closely at the younger woman he nodded towards where his Mom was still holding court. "Just tell me she hasn't offered up anything embarrassing and I'll feel a little better."
"Depends on your definition of embarrassing," Karen said with a smile.
"Yeah, I kinda thought you'd say that," Evan rolled his eyes. "Whatever she said, it wasn't true."
"How can you know that if you don't know what she said?" Karen asked reasonably.
"Oh, I'm sure I could come up with a few good guesses," Evan retorted, "none of which I'm going to admit to here on the grounds that I could incriminate myself even more."
"Sounds reasonable," Karen agreed with a chuckle. They stood together for a few moments and then Karen spoke again. "She's really proud of you, you know."
"She's my Mom, that's kind of her job," Evan said modestly.
"Well from the sounds of it you make it an easy one," Karen insisted. "She worries about you too – but I'm guessing you already knew that too."
"Life can't always be as safe as she'd want it," Evan glanced at Karen and then turned his eyes back to the mingling crowd. "I'm sure that's just as true here as it is anywhere else. You manage the risks, don't take stupid chances, and hope that's enough to get you home at the end of the day." Seeing his Mom looking his way, he waved and then turned to Karen. "And my break is over ... I should rejoin my Mom. It was nice talking to you Karen."
"You too Evan," she returned quietly.
"So, what did you think of everyone?" Grace asked casually as Evan drove them home a couple of hours later.
"They were all very nice – very friendly," Evan said noncommittally, keeping his eyes on the road. Not at first, but pretty soon after they'd arrived he'd begun to think his Mom had had an ulterior motive for asking him to go with her and now he was interested in seeing how she'd play that out.
"And Karen?" Grace persisted. "I saw you talking to her – you seemed to be getting along."
"Because we were talking about how often you talk about me Mom," Evan shot back pointedly. "And to answer the question you really want to ask, yes she was very nice, very attractive, but no, I have no interest in seeing her again. And I can't believe you tried to hook me up with one of your colleagues!"
"I wasn't trying to 'hook you up'!" Grace protested. "But what's the harm in meeting a nice girl?"
"There's no harm – unless you're secretly hoping it's a prelude to white picket fences and more grandkids!"
"You don't want what Elaine and Drew have?" Grace was genuinely curious. She'd always thought her son would have those things one day – when he was ready. But as time passed she'd begun to wonder if that assumption was still accurate.
"I ... don't know," Evan couldn't bring himself to say what his first impulse had been to say – that no, he really didn't want any of that. "My head and my heart are just somewhere else right now Mom ... and I don't know if that will ever change. You have Elaine and Drew for the happily ever after stuff – you'll just have to be content with that."
"It's not about me Evan," Grace said a little sternly. "It's about you. I don't want to see you look forward a few years from now and realise it's too late to add a family as part of your life."
"I know that, but it's my call, and my responsibility," Evan pointed out. He glanced over at her again, relenting when he saw her sad little nod and putting a hand on her knee. "I'm okay Mom ... you can trust me on that, okay?"
"Okay," she agreed quietly.
Chapter 7: Okay – that's not good.
Late October, 2002
After so many times when they thought Drew would be coming home only to be disappointed, it had begun to feel like he'd never be on his way. But finally, at the end of October, Drew got on a transport plane at Kandahar and began his long journey back to Canada.
Elaine was beyond excited and had suddenly decided that rather than wait for Drew she wanted to get the nursery completely ready, as a welcome home surprise for her husband. Of course, being eight months pregnant wasn't conducive to many of the activities required to turn a cluttered spare room into a baby's paradise. And so it was that Evan found himself once again stepping in. He'd agreed to two days only – anything they could get done during that time would have to be enough because his work schedule didn't allow more time off. Besides Drew's arrival time only gave them another day beyond that, maybe less if he managed to get good connecting flights from Europe to the States. Elaine had been so happy that Evan was helping she hadn't even thought to try and wheedle more time from her brother.
"Lainee, are you sure this is the colour you want for this wall?" Evan looked at the newly opened can of yellow paint - sunshine bright yellow paint - dubiously.
"Is it yellow?" Elaine yelled from the living room where she was sitting on the couch folding and sorting impossibly tiny baby clothes. She felt enormous already – holding up a white bodysuit with the phrase 'I get my looks from Daddy and my brains from Mummy' printed on it she assessed its size and then looked down at her tummy. "I think this will already be too small by the time you get here," she told her unborn child with a small smile.
Evan looked at the paint again and then shrugged. "Yeah," he called back, dipping the brush in and then turning to the bare wall. It had been a plain cream colour before he'd applied the white undercoat late the day before. That was after he'd spent three hours lugging everything that was in the room out of the room. Blocking out the edges around the skirting and cornices he hummed under his breath as he let the act of painting absorb him. It didn't take long and Evan had to admit that Elaine had been right. It was a bright yellow but it lit up the room and turned the other walls into a pleasant contrast. Cleaning up he made his way back to the living room.
Elaine had finished with her organising and was reading a pregnancy magazine when he walked in. "Finished already?" she asked.
"I'm multi-talented," he told her with a smug smirk. "Anything interesting in that?" he gestured to her reading material.
"Not unless you want to hear real life stories from women who've given birth," Elaine replied, "with all the gory details."
"I'll pass," Evan said lightly. "That wall will take a couple of hours to dry enough for us to risk doing anything else in the room. So – what do you want me to do next?"
"There's a changing table storage unit and the crib to put together," Elaine suggested.
"Okay," Evan rubbed his hands together with enthusiasm. "This I can do!" He narrowed his eyes at her as he continued. "You're forbidden to tell Drew I actually enjoyed this, you know that right? I'm suffering for my Uncle-hood here, okay."
"Of course you are," Elaine smiled at her brother fondly. "Did I tell you how much I appreciate this?"
"Yeah, but you can tell me again," Evan returned with a faint smile. Turning to the corner of the room he grabbed the first box – the changing table - and started unpacking it. He'd laid everything out and was reading the instructions, such as they were, before looking up at Elaine again. "This one will fit through the door," he commented. "We'll have to wait for everything to dry before we do the crib."
Elaine watched him for a time ... he was so focussed and methodical as he worked. He'd discarded the instruction sheet with a mumbled complaint that it was useless and was constructing the item by working out what each piece was for. Again she felt that rush of pride that her brother was so smart and capable. "You really are enjoying that aren't you?" she commented fondly.
"Yeah," Evan grinned. "What do you think so far?" He had the base done and was just finishing up installing the top which acted as both a lid for one of the storage sections underneath as well as the 'table' part of the unit.
"It looks great," Elaine yawned before she could say more. "Sorry," she apologised. "I was this tired for the first trimester but then I felt great. The past couple of weeks it's been back to tiredness again - I can barely make it past lunch without falling asleep."
"Why don't you go have a nap," Evan suggested. "I can finish this up and start on something else."
"Okay, I think I will," Elaine got up and leaned down to press a kiss into his hair before disappearing down the hall.
Evan completed the changing table and carried it quietly into the nursery. The first furniture in the room, apart from the built-in closet already there. He stood looking around for a few moments before his eyes fell on that built-in again, and more specifically the white painted floor to ceiling doors.
It was so ... white. And despite the blandness implied, it kind of clashed with the newly painted yellow wall and it's adjacent cream ones. As he continued to look around the room, Evan began to smile. He had an idea.
Heading for the living room corner where he'd stacked some of the stuff that used to be in the nursery he grabbed what he needed and then went back to the baby's room. Laying the items on the floor, he stood again, letting his eyes lose focus as he looked at the doors speculatively until he had a full picture in his head of what he wanted to do. Nodding, he got to work.
Elaine slowly returned from sleep, rubbing her eyes as she turned to look at the bedside clock.
5:10! She'd been asleep for over four hours!
Manouvreing herself out of bed she went to freshen up and then hurried to the living room to check on her brother. Frowning when she saw the empty room she turned and went to the nursery. Stopping abruptly in the doorway, she took in the scene, her hand to her mouth. "Evan," she said in a low tone, taking a couple of unconscious steps inside.
"You're up," Evan straightened, wiping his brush on a cloth as he walked to her. Assessing her closely he smiled. "You look better."
"I feel better," Elaine said distractedly, her eyes still on the wall behind him. "This is ....," she trailed off, meeting her brother's eyes.
"You don't mind?" he asked uncertainly. "I would have asked you but you were snoring so loudly I don't think you would have heard if I'd decided to take out a few walls and build an outdoor area for the baby."
"I don't snore!" she protested.
"Maybe it was the baby then," Evan suggested, tongue in cheek.
"After you've carried an extra 20 pounds of baby related weight around for eight months then you can comment," Elaine retorted. She stepped closer to where he'd been working, her eyes tracking every detail. He'd painted a mural of sorts, crossing the sliding doors of her built in closet. It had an element of fantasy about it ... the colours more vibrant than nature would use. There was ocean because he knew she still missed the Bay, and trees with leaves that on closer inspection turned out to be shaped like jungle animals. The sky was streaked with pinks and yellows and the sun's rays kissed the surface of everything – Evan had made them all glisten as though touched with pixie dust. A playground of equipment any kid would long to play on was tucked inside a grass filled clearing and there were other surprises hidden in various places over the whole picture. It was a magical landscape for a child but so much more, the details emerging the closer she looked. Animal shapes made up many of the larger objects, butterflies blending in with the flowers, dolphins and fish doing the same in the ocean. Everything had a kind of blurred and indistinct feel to it too, the edges of one thing blending into the next adding to the mystery and charm of the mural.
"I can't believe you did this so quickly," Elaine told him quietly.
"Me either," Evan admitted. "It really captured me .... I completely lost track of time. Is it okay?" he asked her uncertainly.
"It's better than okay Evan," Elaine turned and put a hand to each of his cheeks. Pulling him down she pressed a kiss to his forehead. "It's wonderful."
"And you haven't seen the best bit yet," Evan said excitedly, moving forward. "See, with the doors closed like this everything travels over the middle join, but if you close them the other way," he moved each door until they'd swapped positions, "it still looks like a complete picture. That way it doesn't matter which way you close them."
"Very clever," Elaine admired that extra detail with an amused smile. His excitement was just so ... cute!
"I just need another hour to finish the details," Evan offered. "And maybe another hour for the crib and then it's done – ready for you to bring in all the baby paraphernalia you've collected for my nephew."
"Or niece," Elaine corrected automatically. 'And it's not paraphernalia!" she added insistently. Looking at the mural again her eyebrows rose pointedly. "I'm surprised you didn't paint a fleet of planes and cars in there."
"Who says I didn't?" Evan grinned. "Look closer Sis," he advised.
"Oh you!" She laughed, seeing planes and boats and cars in abstract hidden in the clouds he'd painted travelling across the sky.
"Hey, I balanced it out with the flowers and butterflies," Evan pointed out. He looked at the mural with an amused grin, as much for his own whimsy as for his sisters reaction.
"Are you hungry?" Elaine asked, putting a hand to her back in a futile effort to ease the weight putting pressure on her spine.
"I didn't really notice but yeah, I am," Evan admitted. "I can go out – get something," he offered. He'd done the same thing for her yesterday, anything to spare her from necessary chores.
"No, that's okay," Elaine put a hand on his forearm fondly. "I can still get around the kitchen and after all your work the least I can do is make you something to eat."
"Okay, but don't do anything elaborate," Evan agreed. His sister nodded before turning and waddling from the room – he used that description in his head but never to her face, even though she was kind of swaying from side to side as she walked. Grinning, Evan dipped his clean brush into the yellow paint and added a fluffy duck to the pond, stepping back to consider what else he wanted to do before the picture was finished.
He'd added a few details, smoothed out a couple of things, and was almost finished putting all Elaine's paints away when he heard her calling for him.
"Evan!" That sounded .... urgent. Dropping the stuff he was holding to the floor, Evan ran from the room, down the corridor and into the kitchen to see Elaine standing in the middle of the floor, her expression disbelieving.
"I think the baby's coming," Elaine revealed, a hand to her belly. Her expression shifted to pained, her body tensing. "Okay – that's not good."
"Now? You're in labour now?" If someone had asked him to describe his current feeling Evan would have struggled to be articulate. Nerves, fear, worry for Elaine – they were all there for sure. But along with all those predictable thoughts were other, less logical ones. Chief amongst them was why him? Couldn't Elaine have waited another day, when he was safely back on the job? Of course that would have left her alone which wasn't good either ... although Drew would have been back by then.
"Yes, I'm in labour now," Elaine confirmed grimly, unaware of Evan's thoughts.
"Right," Evan took a deep breath and focussed on the priorities. "Four weeks early .... that's common, right? So – we call your Doctor?"
"The baby can't be early!" Elaine moaned low, tensing again. "Oh God."
"Listen Sis, I don't know much about labour but if those are contractions, aren't they a little close together?" Evan asked with a frown, finally moving in and putting a hand to her back.
"Yes, which is why I said it wasn't good!" Elaine shot back irritably.
"Where's your doctors number?" Evan asked quietly.
"Top drawer, over there," Elaine pointed, putting a hand to her tummy and rubbing in a circular motion.
Evan found the number and grabbing the phone made the call himself. He explained the situation briskly and succinctly, listened to the instructions and then confirmed that they'd be there soon.
"She'll meet us at the hospital," he told Elaine. "Where's your bag?"
"Ah – in the bedroom," Elaine's eyes filled with tears she struggled to contain. "I can't have this baby now Evan ... not until Drew gets home!"
"I know Sis," Evan moved forward and put his arm around her, squeezing tight in comfort. "Let's get you to the hospital first, see how far along you are. Then we can worry about the rest, okay?"
"Okay," Elaine sniffed, pressing her face to his shoulder before stepping back with a brave smile. "I'll go get in the car."
"Take it slow and I'll help you," Evan ran a hand over her hair before turning and hurrying to her bedroom. He found the bag easy enough, thankful Elaine had already packed one so he didn't have to rummage through her draws himself. Grabbing the bag he ran from the room, pausing to grab wallet and keys on the way to the front door. He'd locked up and was at the car before Elaine could attempt to get in by herself, helping her settle herself awkwardly in the front seat.
And then they were driving, with him just barely keeping to the speed limit and tensing every time Elaine went through a contraction. The ride to the hospital was thankfully short and they were met in the foyer by a nurse who'd been sent down to help Elaine.
"This way," she urged, taking Elaine's arm.
"Evan?" Elaine looked to him worriedly.
"It's okay Lainee," Evan reassured her. "I'll just fill in whatever they need and be right behind you."
"Okay," Elaine hesitated for another moment and then followed the nurse.
Evan took care of the paperwork – which wasn't much given Elaine had already booked in to have her baby at that hospital months before. And then he took out his mobile and made a call.
"Cade, it's Evan," he said as soon as it was answered. "Is there any way you can find out where Drew is right now?"
"Ah .... maybe," Cade offered. "Why?"
"Elaine just went into labour ... four weeks early," Evan revealed grimly.
"Damn," Cade murmured. "Okay, I'll call the base he was supposed to lay over at, find out what flight he went out on. Then we can get a call through to him."
"Thanks Cade," Evan returned. "You've got my number but I'll have to switch the phone off once I'm in with Elaine. Call the maternity desk as soon as you know anything," he gave Cade details on the hospital before hanging up.
Waiting outside while Elaine was examined by her obstetrician, Evan considered ringing their Mom but decided to hold off until he knew the full situation. Plus that was probably something Elaine would want to do herself.
"You can go in now," the nurse appeared with a friendly smile.
"Thanks," Evan walked in, zeroing in on Elaine straight away. She looked ... calmer.
"This is my brother Evan," Elaine introduced him. "Drew's still on his way back from Afghanistan. Evan, this is Doctor Julie Grant."
Evan nodded to the doctor and nurses and then looked at Elaine. "What's the status?"
"Your sister is definitely in labour," her obstetrician, Doctor Grant, explained. "Only a centimetre dilated though and thankfully the contractions have dropped off as well." The Doctor smiled over at Elaine. "Your baby is keen to make an appearance but it will probably be a while yet. Settle in and I'll come check on you again in a few hours."
"Thanks Doctor Grant," Elaine returned. Evan moved closer and she took his hand, squeezing tightly. "I can't believe this is happening," she said quietly.
"You heard what the Doc said," Evan reminded her. "Still going to be hours yet ... Drew's on his way home and we just have to pray that he'll make it here in time."
"I just ... I'd feel better if I knew when he was going to get here," Elaine's eyes filled with tears again. "He can't miss this, not on top of everything else. It's just not fair!"
"I know," Evan sat on the edge of the bed and pulled her into a hug. "I know."
He let her cry for a few moments and then leaned towards the bedside table to grab her a couple of tissues. "Listen, I called Cade and he's finding out exactly where Drew is right now. He'll call here as soon as he knows something."
"Okay," Elaine settled back and then abruptly stiffened again.
"Contraction?" Evan offered her his hand and then tried not to cringe when she held on really tightly, nodding. Moments later she was relaxing again. "Do you want me to call Mom?" he asked.
"No ... I'll do it," Elaine took the phone he handed her and dialled quickly. "Mom," she said tearfully a moment later.
Evan listened as she spilled out the story of their current circumstances, handing her more tissues she used gratefully while continuing to talk.
"She's taking the first flight she can get here," Elaine told him once the call was done, handing him back his phone.
"You gonna call Drew's parents?" Evan asked curiously.
"Not yet," Elaine replied. "It'd take them even longer to get here than it takes Mom - I don't want to put that kind of pressure on them." Matthew and Helen Rider had retired to Prince Edward Island a couple of years back - Elaine loved visiting them there, loved imagining the presence of one of her favourite girlhood fictional characters in the sprawling fields and quaint houses. Elaine got on well with Drew's parents and they'd kept in touch the whole time Drew had been away. It wasn't the same level of comfort, the same sense of belonging that she had with Evan and her Mom but their support had certainly helped her get through some pretty tough days in the past month. "Drew will call them when he gets here."
"Right," Evan stood for a moment, comtemplating the situation. "So now we wait," he concluded.
"Now we wait," Elaine confirmed.
There was silence for a few moments and then Evan spoke again. "Got anything to do in that bag?" he asked hopefully.
"Go – buy a book or something," Elaine said with a laugh. "I'll be fine by myself for a while."
"You need anything?" Evan asked, turning towards the door.
"No," Elaine smiled.
"Okay – I'll switch on my phone so call me if you ...," he began.
"You're going downstairs Evan," Elaine pointed out. "I hardly think anything will happen before you get back."
"Right," leaning down he kissed the top of her head. "Back soon," he promised.
Evan wasn't sure whether Elaine or his Mom had said it or he'd seen it in a movie but somewhere he'd heard that first babies were prone to taking a long time to arrive. In Elaine's case that turned out to be true and while he was glad from the point of view that it gave Drew time to get there before the baby was born, having to watch his baby sister sweating through contraction after contraction with grim faced purpose wasn't something he wanted to repeat any time soon.
He'd checked back at the front desk periodically until he'd gotten a message from Cade.
"Boarded C-130J Hercules at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. ETA Cold Lake 0610 hours. Message re Elaine's status was received. Good luck."
That had been hours ago. By Evan's estimation Drew was still about four hours away. As for Elaine, well you just didn't get ETA's on babies so that one was anyone's guess.
It was an unusual position for Evan to be in – standing in for Drew like he was. Part of him was actually kind of chuffed to be in on the start of his nephew ... or niece's life. There'd be stories he'd be able to tell after this the kid would never live down. But it came with a level of intimacy that was a little on the uncomfortable side ... he kept feeling the need to explain to every new nurse that came on shift who he was. Elaine thought it was hilarious, teasing him mercilessly by trying to teach him that ridiculous breathing even he knew was only used on TV – just in case he had to actually help her deliver the baby. He'd flat out drawn the line there, telling her there was no way he was sitting in on the business end of the proceedings – he'd let her squeeze the crap out of his hand and yell at him if she must but that was it. Yeah, he didn't mind being there for Elaine but he'd much rather be sitting out in the waiting room while Drew sweated it out in the hot seat.
Things continued in the same vein, the minutes merging into each other until time began to lose meaning. The last check from the nurse put Elaine at 8 centimetres which meant it wouldn't be long now. Her contractions were coming at regular intervals, only a few minutes apart, which made conversation kind of interesting. They'd fallen into a rhythm where she'd just pause, work through the pain while Evan held her hand and felt useless, and then continue talking as though the interruption had never taken place. It was disconcerting how even something like that became routine after enough hours.
"Evan, stop pacing!" Elaine's voice drew him back to the present. "It's distracting."
"Sorry," he moved back to sit beside her. She'd been doing a combination of walking around and resting in bed, more of the later than the former because the nurse had told her standing would hurry along the labour. "How are you doing?"
"How do you think I'm doing?!" Elaine shot back irritably. "I've been at this for hours ... I'm tired and my hair's a mess. Oh, and the man who got me like this is God only knows where."
"Right," Evan struggled not to laugh - now was hardly the time. "So, about the same as last time I asked."
"Don't mess with me pal," Elaine warned. "If you're gonna be like that you can just clear out."
"Huh, you'd miss me," Evan ruffled her hair before stepping out of the line of fire. "I'll just go stretch my legs though," he added quickly when she looked like she was going to start yelling. "You'll be -,"
"Don't," Elaine interrupted impatiently. "I can handle having a contraction or two by myself!"
"Of course you can," Evan smiled, risking pressing a kiss to her cheek before leaving her with a smile on her face.
Outside, Evan walked across the road to the small park, leaning his back against the seat and looking up into the sky. It was still dark but he could see traces of light slowly appearing .... the sun would be rising soon, hopefully bringing with it the arrival of his brother-in-law. He was kind of drifting when the phone buzzed in his pocket.
"Evan Lorne," he answered briskly.
"Evan, it's Drew."
"Buddy! You're here?" Evan grinned, delighted to hear his friend's voice.
"Almost," Drew answered. "How's Elaine?"
"She's fine," Evan reassured his friend. "You might want to pick up the pace a little though – I don't know for sure but it sounds like things are getting to the crucial stages now."
"Tell her I'll get there," Drew said urgently.
"Hang on and I'll take the phone to her so you can tell her yourself," Evan countered, already walking back across the road and into the hospital. He got a look from the desk nurse in maternity. "Husband," he mouthed with a pleading expression, getting a smile and a nod in return. Elaine had been there long enough that all the rostered nurses knew of her situation.
"That didn't take long," Elaine commented when he walked in. The way she was panting said that she was just coming off of another contraction.
"Here, say hello," Evan gave her the phone.
"Hello?" Elaine said uncertainly. There was a moment's pause and then her face was lighting up, tears filling her eyes. "Drew!!! Where are you?"
She listened, nodding, grinning. "Oh God, I've missed you so much. How long until you get here?"
Feeling a little like a voyeur listening in on a private conversation, Evan moved away.
"I hear Drew isn't far away now," Doctor Grant returned from her rounds to check on Elaine, stopping in the doorway where Evan stood to watch Elaine talk with a smile on her face.
"Yeah – hopefully he'll make it here before the baby does," Evan commented.
"It must be difficult," the Doctor said softly, "being separated for so long."
"It's not easy," Evan agreed. "Makes relationships hard but somehow Elaine and Drew manage." Evan paused and then glanced at her. "He is going to have the time to get here, right?"
"First babies are unpredictable," Doctor Grant replied with typical doctor evasiveness. "Once she's fully dilated it could be an hour or five minutes ... I need to check Elaine to see where we're at." Noticing Elaine lowering the phone with a wistful smile she added "and I'll do that right now."
Evan followed, taking his phone back and quickly moving out of range of all the 'personal' examining going on. He loved his sister dearly but no brother needed to know anything about the inner workings of his sister, even during child birth.
"You're really close now Elaine," Doctor Grant reported moments later, pulling off her gloves and disposing of them. "I'd say maybe another half an hour and then it'll be time to start working for your baby to arrive. How does that sound?"
"Ah ...," Elaine looked at Evan and then back to her doctor. "Drew, my husband, said he'd be here within the hour."
"It'll be close but we'll see," Doctor Grant said noncommittally.
In the end it turned out to almost too close. Evan had purchased a disposal camera from the gift shop downstairs hours before and had already gratefully handed it to one of the nurses so the 'main' event could be recorded for Drew to see at least some of it later. She'd smiled and reassured him that Elaine would have the pictures she'd need without Evan having to personally take them.
Elaine had been pushing for ten minutes, crying out with every effort while clutching at Evan's hands. The baby's head had just crowned when Drew literally ran into the room, breathing hard.
"Oh God, Drew!" Elaine started sobbing as soon as she saw him. Evan moved aside as Drew appeared, folding his arms over his chest as he watched the reunion, relief almost making his legs feel weak.
Finally Drew was there and everything that happened from then on no longer felt like it was Evan's responsibility. Drew didn't hesitate ... he was drawn to Elaine's side as though an invisible thread connected them, taking her face between his palms and kissing her deeply. Elaine smiled though her tears, seeming to almost forget for a moment that she was in the middle of giving birth.
Then the urge to push hit her again and she was moaning, clutching at Drew's arm and holding on grimly.
"Just a little half push this time," Doctor Grant instructed. "We want to deliver the head slowly."
"I'll try," Elaine shook as the desire to just push and push until it was over washed through her ... she was trembling with the effort of holding it in, doing her best to do what the doctor had told her.
"That's it," Drew absently took the seat Evan had vacated, smoothing a hand over Elaine's damp hair. "You're doing it E," a hint of wonder was in his voice as he absorbed all the hours of what his wife had experienced in mere moments.
"Well done Elaine," the doctor said, "we have the head. Just a few more pushes now."
Realising the baby was only moments away from arriving, and having lost his cushy place at the head of the bed away from the action, Evan started backing towards the door. He didn't want to see any of the gory details .... he really, really didn't need that kind of image in his head.
"Evan?" Elaine's hopeful voice stopped him cold.
"I'll just wait outside," he said casually.
"No you won't!" Elaine's impatient tone shifted into short groans as another urge to push arrived. Breathing through it audibly she gave into it, her face strained.
Evan backed up another step.
"Please," Elaine said when she could speak again. "You've been here the whole time and I really want .... I need you to stay. Please?"
"Okay, fine," Evan murmured, reluctantly walking back inside. "But I don't want to see anything ... and I mean anything."
"You can stand here Mr Lorne," one of the nurses said with an amused smile, motioning him to the other side of the bed across from where Drew was sitting.
Glancing away from his wife, Drew was smirking slightly. "Nice to see you buddy," he told Evan.
"Yeah, you too," Evan returned blandly. "Took your time getting here though."
"Traffic," Drew said simply, both men's attention drawn back to Elaine as she let out another low moan.
Evan became a part of the background then, a silent witness to the events as they unfolded.
"Okay Elaine, one big push," the doctor instructed.
Elaine's eyes were locked on her husband's as she gave it everything she had, crying out as she pushed for all she was worth.
It seemed like the world stopped for a moment and then returned to motion with the cry of a new born baby. At 6:37 am on the 2nd of November, baby Rider made a memorable entrance into the world.
"Congratulations," Doctor Grant looked at them with a smile, the baby held safely in her hands. "You have a boy."
"A boy!" Elaine cried, straining to sit up a little so she could see. The nurse quickly wrapped the baby in a warm towel and brought him to his mother.
Elaine's arms were ready ... it felt like she'd been ready for months ... and with a soft 'Oh' she welcomed her son, cradling him close to her chest. "Drew," she murmured, glancing up at her husband before her eyes returned to her baby. "Look!"
"I'm looking," he said simply, taking in the picture they made. "He's beautiful ... you're beautiful."
"Get out!" Elaine laughed. "I look like hell. You're right about one thing though," she brushed a gentle finger over her baby's cheek. He was smeared with the blood and vernix the nurse hadn't been able to completely wipe off and his little face was scrunched up in protest at being removed from his nice warm cocoon inside his Mommy. Elaine saw none of that. "He's perfect," she announced reverently.
"You did very well," the nurse said, Doctor Grant still engaged in all the after birth requirements of labour. "Do you have a name?"
"We do," Drew put his arm around Elaine, propping a hip up on the bed. They'd talked it over weeks before and come to an easily mutual decison. Looking down at his son he said "welcome to the world, Jonathon Evan Rider."
Evan had been watching the whole thing silently ... that moment when the baby had let out its first cry had been ... awesome. He'd felt so many emotions gathering, watching his baby sister become a mother, almost able to see the change that came over her. Being there for that ... watching the emergence of a family ... reading the emotions in Drew's expression ... he didn't have the words to describe what that meant to him. He was kind of lost in that moment ... hadn't really been listening specifically to Elaine and Drew until Drew announced the baby's name. He almost froze in surprise as it registered.
"Evan?" he repeated with a frown. "After me?"
"No, we just like the name," Elaine said sarcastically. "Of course after you, silly!"
"And Jonathon for your Dad," Drew said simply.
Evan nodded, speechless, swallowing down the sudden surge of ... not tears but as close as any man would admit to them. "Ah ... wow," he murmured, eyes on the baby ... on Jonathon.
"That's all you can say ... wow?" Elaine smiled, watching her brother fondly.
"You amaze me," Evan said simply, meeting her eyes.
The smile dropped from her face and her eyes glistened with tears. "You amaze me too," she managed to return.
"All I did was sit around letting you cut off the blood flow to my hands," Evan excused lightly. "You owe me for that one too buddy," he told Drew, wiggling his fingers and grimacing. "It's a shame you weren't here ... Elaine was ... awesome."
"I knew she would be," Drew said proudly, smiling down at his wife.
"You only just got here," Elaine pointed out simply, holding her new son close.
"Yeah, well if you'd had this little one on schedule I would have been back with plenty of time to spare," Drew retorted, a soft smile firmly in place as he watched his wife and son.
The doctor finished with Elaine and after promising to check on her that evening congratulated them again and then left them to it. The nurse was quickly ready to transfer them all to a private room and Evan took the opportunity to make his excuses.
"You guys need time together," he insisted over their protests. "Family bonding time." He'd kissed Elaine, exchanged manly hugs with Drew, and carefully brushed his lips to Jonathon's head.
And then he was outside the hospital, sitting on that seat across the road in the park. He didn't know what to think – it had been a big day – a big couple of days and suddenly he felt overcome with tiredness. He wasn't sure how long he sat there, the early morning light moving higher into the sky as he hovered in daydream mode.
"You okay?" Drew sat down next to him, stretching out his legs.
"Sure," Evan said lightly. "Just tired."
"Yeah, I can understand that," Drew agreed. "Elaine's having a shower while they check Jonathon over," he answered Evan's unspoken question. "Called my parents - they're booking a flight right now. And your Mom called from the plane – they'll be landing in an hour."
"I'll go get her," Evan made to stand, stopping only when Drew put a hand on his shoulder. "What?"
"I don't know how to thank you," Drew said simply.
"What?" Evan frowned. "She's my sister ... anyone would have done the same. I mean, of course it would have been better if you'd been there from day one but you weren't. We all do what we have to do," he concluded simply.
"I knew you'd say that," Drew slapped his friend fondly. "Elaine's been full of praise for weeks ... months. You went above and beyond – regardless of whether you think so. Elaine and I are both lucky to have you."
"Yeah, well the kid's middle name is thanks enough," Evan murmured, keen to get the uncomfortable conversation over with. "You guys are pretty important to me so you know .... what I did was as much for me as it was for either of you."
"Right," Drew smiled, standing when Evan did. "You can be the kid's favourite Uncle," he added as they walked back towards the hospital.
"Hey, I'm his only Uncle," Evan pointed out.
"Yeah, that too," Drew laughed.
"Funny," Evan chuckled. "I'll go get Mom. You – go, be a Dad."
Seeing his friend so happy ... back home and healthy, no hint of the hard times he'd gone through recently evident ... it had something inside relaxing. Something at the core ... the crucial details of life that represented Evan's centre. And suddenly everything was back to being how it should be, and all was right with his world.