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We wonder, and some Hunter may express
Wonder like ours, when thro' the wilderness
Where London stood, holding the Wolf in chace,
He meets some fragments huge, and stops to guess
What powerful but unrecorded race
Once dwelt in that annihilated place.
Horace Smith

~*~

"We think that allowing our people to settle on Tsaras would benefit both the Genii and Atlantis," Lorne said, and gave Ladon Radim a friendly diplomatic smile. M1K-177 wasn't Lorne's favorite planet and the Genii made him itch with suspicion, but he had to admit that Atlantis was in a hard place and Woolsey's plan to involve the Genii was better than anything he and Sheppard had come up with. So far.

Three weeks ago, an Ancient ship had dropped out of hyperspace over P69-457, dropped through the local sun, and established a sub-light course for Lantea. Zelenka had picked the ship up on the long-range sensors, and McKay had insisted that if the ship wasn't replicators then it was Ancients, and either way they were in so much trouble.

The last time Lorne had smiled had been when McKay had been giving another dramatic rendition of their certain doom, and Sheppard had rocked his chair back on two legs, balancing with his knee on Woolsey's conference table, and told McKay to chill. McKay's rage had been epic and hilarious.

"Just call them up and say hi," Sheppard went on, when the spluttering had started to peter out. "Sure, they probably want to kill us and steal the city, but maybe --" he had to raise his voice to be heard -- "they're friendly."

"Friendly like the Wraith," McKay had snapped. But they'd sent a jumper out to hail the ship and discovered that it was an Ancient seed ship piloted (badly) by a handful of Icarus Base survivors.

Most victories in Pegasus were bittersweet, but there had been nothing to regret about rescuing the Icarus crew and recovering the Ancient ship. The survivors were grateful for clean clothes, fresh food, and familiar faces. Lorne had participated in rescue operations back on Earth; he liked helping people out. The good feeling had lasted until Woolsey contacted Earth and was told the SGC would not allow anyone who'd been on Destiny to return to Earth.

"We came this far," Camille Wray said, hands curling into fists even though her face didn't betray her emotions. "We're so close."

"I'm sorry," Woolsey said. "When your ship was lost... Colonel Young reported you all dead months ago."

"Days," Dr. Rush murmured, with his perpetual air of faint amusement. Wray made it clear that she thought he had had a psychological breakdown, but he was also the one who'd forced the malfunctioning, derelict ship to bend space and time to find Atlantis. "For us, it was only days."

The SGC and the IOA were concerned that the aliens the Destiny had encountered could somehow track its crew, and would use them to find and subjugate Earth. Woolsey had very patiently explained that SG1 should have been exiled years ago by the same logic, not to mention the fact that the Wraith and the Replicators had used telepathic brainwashing on many people who still got home leave.

The SGC responded by suspending all gate travel back to Earth pending strenuous security investigations. In retaliation, Woolsey let McKay leak some of Rush's discoveries about Ancient power generation to Sam Carter. The data wasn't useful by itself, but tantalizing enough to make Carter call a lot of people short-sighted idiots. Woolsey himself pulled strings with the IOA, and Sheppard filed mountains of paperwork, intent on milking every benefit out of the system. Nobody fucks with my people, Sheppard said with a shrug. And if they're here, they're mine.

So it was the least Lorne could do to talk with the survivors and find them a suitable planet for relocation. Earthlike, they all agreed, with a planetary gate so they could easily travel to Atlantis. They had a mixed bag of skills: Brody and Rush were physicists, Johansen a field medic, Wray had some kind of psychology background, and Webber, Metner, and the rest of the now-discharged military had their specialties. That plus their PTSD, anger issues, and grief made Lorne look for a populated planet with a decent level of medicine and technology. Woolsey told Lorne to start with the Genii, which meant Lorne had to swallow down his issues with Radim and invite him over for tea.

"Why Tsaras?" Radim asked, sipping cautiously at the tea. Lorne had gotten the leaves from Teyla Emmagan and had followed her brewing instructions carefully. It was supposed to have relaxing properties, but he wasn't sure how he'd be able to tell if Radim mellowed. The heavy Genii uniform forced him into a stiff, alert posture that made Lorne even more aware of Radim's intense, intelligent gaze.

Lorne kept his smile polite instead of sighing, and opened one of the folders on the table between their chairs. "We have intelligence on Genii industrial development there. In particular, the university you've built in the town just a few klicks from the stargate."

"Akastsi," Radim supplied, with an ironic incline of his head as if to say that he knew that Lorne knew, and he was just playing along.

"Our people can teach," Lorne said. "They'll be allowed to work on certain projects with your scientists and engineers, using advanced technology which we are also prepared to provide. Not weapons, because we're not idiots, but safe power supplies, stuff like that." He took a breath. "In return, you'll supply housing, food, medical care, and free use of the stargate." He spread his hands. "What do you think?"

"Certainly," Radim said. Lorne's surprise must have shown on his face, because Radim's face broke into a wide mischievous grin. "You thought I'd say no? Were we supposed to bargain?"

Lorne found himself grinning back. "I was authorized to throw some trades in the pot. Antibiotics, immunizations, the usual."

Radim waved a hand and pushed to his feet. "Not to seem ungrateful, but we'd much rather learn how to make these things ourselves."

Lorne had also had permission to offer just that, if Radim had proved difficult, but he wasn't naive enough to say so. "As my people say, in your dreams."

Radim shrugged. "Come with me now and we'll find housing that will make your people feel welcome. Perhaps tour some offices and laboratories. The Genii are quite proud of this university, you know. In the days of our Confederation, we had universities on every planet. Museums of art, concert halls. Dancing boys. Pompous statues of leaders in public squares. We were... unprepared for the Wraith."

"When you guys decide to hold democratic elections..." Lorne said, opening the conference room doors and ushering Radim back out into the brilliant glow of the landing overlooking the gate room. "My people will donate as many pompous statues as you like. We can also do stuffy formal portraits," he added. "We're talented that way."

"The things I learn," Radim said, and turned as Woolsey barreled down on them to exchange diplomatic pleasantries that all sounded like veiled threats and insinuations.

~*~

Eight months after the Destiny survivors were resettled, nasty high-tech aliens had still not descended on Pegasus like blue death or armored nightmares. Death came in the usual hive ships and black leatherette trenchcoats. Lorne didn't really want a change, but he wouldn't mind waking up and not having to worry about the Wraith ever again.

Lorne hadn't really been involved with the rehabilitation of the survivors. He'd heard Keller and Carson's reports on their health and well-being, and he'd had to deal with Sheppard stubbornly throwing himself against the IOA trying to get them to allow families to emigrate to Pegasus, but his job was basically the same. He took his team offworld and tried not to get anyone killed; he helped run the increasingly diverse city of Atlantis; he trained new personnel and conducted helpful little seminars on how not to die in Pegasus. He saw Rush and Brody more than any of the other survivors; they worked with (or against, if rumors were to be believed) McKay, and came and went regularly. The Ancient seed ship apparently held the keys to deciphering all Ancient technology, but progress was slow and things kept breaking. Not a big surprise.

Lorne didn't expect to be sent to Tsaras, but he found an overnight trip added to his weekly schedule, replacing a second-contact mission to the planet of the algae Parrish thought might make a tasty food source.

"Don't blame me," Sheppard protested, holding his hands up and trying for an innocent expression. "Woolsey says they asked for you in particular. It's probably your dashing good looks."

"I moisturize, sir," Lorne said, sour. "If you'd taken better care of yourself, I wouldn't have to go disappoint my botanist."

Sheppard shrugged. "That was my clever plan. Become decrepit, foist the Genii off on you. Go and make nice and keep your smart mouth to yourself."

Wray met them as they walked through the gate; she looked... not relaxed, but more centered and energetic. She shook Lorne's hand and told him to thank Sheppard again for bringing her partner to Pegasus.

"Our pleasure," Lorne said awkwardly "How are the kids?"

Wray rolled her eyes, but gamely spent the fifteen minutes it took to walk to the campus talking about the culling orphans that Johansen collected. "Sharon and I aren't into the whole reproduction thing," Wray said. "But kids here are quiet. Traumatized," she corrected, and then made a face. "You should do more of your art camps. They love the attention, and it's kind of therapeutic. I wouldn't be surprised if people from Atlantis didn't start adopting," she added, and gave Lorne a significant look.

Lorne shook his head. "That's not going to happen."

She shrugged. "Stranger things have." There wasn't any arguing with that. He wouldn't be surprised if Dex came back someday with a kid hanging off each arm. Dex was kind of an uncle to Brody's boy, Hunter. Dex had approved of the kid and the name, and a trend had been born. Now there were two Pilots, one Scout, a Tracker, and a poor little girl who'd been saddled with Astrophysicist. Johansen called her Sophie, which Lorne thought was a mercy.

They were met at the university gates by a cluster of scientists and -- Lorne did not roll his eyes or smack his forehead, despite being set up -- Radim, looking uncomfortable in a scientist's uniform.

"Major Lorne," Radim said, and the corners of his mouth quirked up. "My faculty wishes to discuss matters of great agricultural importance with the esteemed Dr. Parrish." He turned the smile on Parrish and offered his hand for a firm, friendly shake. "Something about genetic modification. Not my specialty at all, I'm afraid. While they are discussing the improvement of beans," and he looked off towards the rolling hills as if deliberately striking a noble pose, "I would be pleased if you would walk with me."

"Sure," Lorne said. He gestured with the back of one hand at Cadman to stay with Parrish and Wray, and followed Radim diagonally across the wide decorative lawn that stretched between the rows of buildings.

"The students would be fined for walking on the grass," Radim confided, slowing his pace so he walked at Lorne's side. "One is allowed to do such things when one is the head of a government. One of the perks I expect I will miss when I'm no longer leader supreme of the Genii."

"Are you expecting to be overthrown?" Lorne asked, not entirely flippant. He tended to believe that leaders who rose by coups fell by coups.

Radim laughed and put his hand on Lorne's shoulder. Lorne was instantly nervous, but not sure how to untangle himself without being insulting. "Tell me about those elections your people are so proud of. How do you ensure that the people don't make the wrong choice?"

"Oh boy," Lorne said, feeling as if he was going into free-fall. "Seriously?"

Radim sighed and tapped his fingers against Lorne's shoulder. "I'm a scientist, and I'm missing a new golden era of Genii scientific progress because I'm reviewing legislation about whether female public servants should be paid commensurate with men or at the traditional sixty percent."

"Yes," Lorne blurted out. "Hell, yes. You want fair elections? Equality's a good place to start." He got another shoulder-pat for that and turned his head to see Radim grinning at him, too close, as if he knew a very good secret. "You're messing with me, aren't you?"

Radim shook his head. "I signed that bill yesterday, and my word is law. But I can't help wondering if it's intellectual arrogance to think that I'm the best hope my people have, or simply the truth."

"If you're really that good, they'll vote for you," Lorne said.

"Will Atlantis support the Genii under new leadership?" Radim asked, eyes sharp and serious. "Don't answer that. Bring me an answer from your superiors."

"Sure," Lorne said, feeling terribly out of place and as if he didn't dare say one wrong word, for fear of setting unspeakable things into motion.

"You need to paint my formal portrait before I retire," Radim went on. "Something that can be hung in the Hall of History for schoolchildren to laugh at."

"They won't laugh," Lorne said, because he saw in a flash how he'd pose Radim to show the man and not the uniform, the razor-sharp intelligence and the humor and the ruthlessness that he'd come to know.

"Good," Radim said, and then, "Oh, look. Isn't that your refugee's spokeswoman? She looks bored. Shall we go rescue her?" He didn't move his hand from Lorne's shoulder until Wray had seen, and raised an eyebrow, and kept her silence.

~*~

The Genii election was an intricate choreography of political ambitions and a citizenry suddenly granted rights and power. Radim survived two attempted coups only to find himself elected President, which Lorne figured he probably hated. In the official telecasts of the Confirmation Day, transmitted through the gate, Radim's Presidential uniform was stiffer than his supreme commander's, andsparkled with golden cords and bronze buttons. Radim's hair, at least that which showed from under his enormous gold-braided hat, was going gray, and his face looked weary.

Lorne hadn't see Radim at all during the Genii political chaos. Woolsey's position was that it was best for Atlantis to keep a distance, so as not to be perceived as unduly influencing the election results. Sheppard said in private that Woolsey would have to maintain good relations with whoever won the election -- or seized control by coup -- so looking like Radim's biggest supporters could backfire for Atlantis. "Just politics," Sheppard said, with a shrug that was too studied to be casual. "Doesn't mean we're disloyal. Or ungrateful."

"Politics are a bitch, sir," Lorne agreed, rebuffing Sheppard's overture and telling himself that he was being ridiculous to miss talking with Radim. The man was a dictator who'd given himself a veneer of legitimacy. He used his intelligence and charisma in dealing with his allies, but kept his agenda to himself. At one point or another, he'd tried to kill everyone Lorne was sworn to protect. He'd tried to kill Lorne, impersonally and strategically, which should have been proof enough that Lorne was just a game piece being put into play, and not a player.

Still, when Sheppard ordered him to escort McKay and Rush and a handful of other scientists to a big Genii academic-slash-industrial conference, Lorne packed his sketchpad, just in case. He was glad to have the distraction; most of the papers being presented went over his head, but he still had to stay awake and alert. Drawing gave him a quick escape when he wasn't on duty, a mental release just as satisfying as a good hard run. The Genii homeworld made for some striking landscapes, with lush valleys that turned out to be old bomb craters and dense clusters of factories ringed by pits of effluent and strung along railways. Lorne had the second afternoon free, ostensibly so he could rest before the evening's formal dinner and awards ceremony, but instead of walking back to the lodging-house he took the stairs to the roof of the hall and settled down with his pastels.

Johansen had taken Genii citizenship, the first from Earth to do so but undoubtedly not the last. Lorne hadn't asked her who she'd voted for last month, when he'd been press-ganged into building a schoolroom addition on the south side of her clinic. He'd been too busy fighting off little people with crayons. He got on better with the kids than the Destiny survivors; for some reason, he still never knew what to say to them. Destiny was like the Fight Club, unmentionable but leaving bruises that went to the bone. If people could leave that behind and find a home and a future, even with the Genii, well, Lorne was no one to judge.

The Genii homeworld was both beautiful and damaged, and he tried to convey that in his pictures; the way beauty rose out of destruction, and the devastation that ate away at the beauty. He suspected this was something that appealed to the Destiny survivors. Atlantis was too starkly bright and uncomplicated. He hadn't drawn much besides Atlantis over the past few years, and his hand was in the habit of copying straight edges and patterns. He had to work hard to let the landscape flow without forcing it into unnatural designs. He should probably get out more.

"You're very good," Radim said from behind, and Lorne tried to repress a startled jump.

He twisted around, his body stiff after sitting still so long, and looked up. Radim was hatless and jacketless and had an air of smug naughtiness that suggested he'd lost his guards accidentally-on-purpose. The idea made Lorne feel queasy. If anything happened up here, he could be framed or blamed and then who knew what would happen.

"Congratulations," he said, because he had to say something, but his voice came out more disapproving than celebratory.

Radim's answering tip of the head was wryly acknowledging, but he walked around to the other side of the metal fan housing that Lorne was perched on and sat down beside him. "I'm sure my men will find me soon enough. Relax. There aren't that many potential assassins stalking me. Anymore."

Lorne's eyes betrayed him, flicking to the red scar that slid from in front of Radim's ear down under his jaw. He looked up to find Radim watching him, intent. "It only takes one."

"When you paint my portrait, I'll show the other side of my face," Radim said with a shrug. "The Genii have many sayings about how vanity is ill-becoming, but lately I've discovered it's a failing I'm prone to." He sighed, and scrubbed a hand through his hair. The sliver caught the afternoon sunlight. "Before, I was just arrogant. I'm accumulating character flaws as well as scars."

"I'm glad you're not dead," Evan said, awkwardly. It was the truth, but it seemed incomplete.

"Among the Genii," Radim said, "if a man gets to be my age without marrying and having children, people assume either he's uninterested in sex or uninterested in women." He gave Lorne a self-mocking sidelong glance, as if inviting him to be in on a joke. "I'm asking if you'd mind if I kissed you. I plan on asking you -- officially, through diplomatic channels -- to paint my portrait regardless of your answer. I'm pragmatic, and I enjoyed the work you've done on Tsaras. Very vibrant and moving."

"Murals," Lorne said, feeling a bit numb. "Not quite the same thing as a formal oil painting."

Radim made a noncommittal noise and took Lorne's sketchbook out of his hand. He looked at Lorne for permission; when he nodded, Radim began flipping slowly through the pages, taking a moment to examine the spiral wire binding with approving curiosity. "I've always thought that you see me as I am," Radim said offhand, holding up an unfinished charcoal drawing of factory cranes so that it caught the light. "Probably because I nearly killed you -- what better way to make friends? -- but I like to think it's your artist's way of seeing." He traced a few lines in the air over the drawing, as if demonstrating. "One of the strange things about being in power is that you're never alone but always lonely."

Lorne was sure his face showed his amusement. "You're still trying to seduce me, aren't you?"

Radim shrugged and moved his hand to the small of Lorne's back, a firm warm pressure there. "If I were any good at seduction, I wouldn't be here complaining of loneliness."

"You're breaking my heart," Lorne told him, and reached for his sketchbook. The movement put him so close to Radim that he could feel the warmth of his breath. He froze for a moment and then realized that if neither of them dared to make the first move the situation would be beyond ridiculous. He leaned just that bit closer and tilted his head as he pressed his mouth to Radim's. Radim kissed back, and it felt like something had cracked open and flown free, a rush of relief and desire so strong that Lorne was dizzy with wanting and wondering how long he'd wanted this. He slid his fingers into Radim's hair and held on, trying to remember every detail, every movement, every touch.

"Thank you," Radim said when Lorne pulled back reluctantly, afraid that if he didn't stop now he'd go too far, on a public rooftop in broad daylight. "I wasn't sure... thank you."

Lorne didn't know what to say, so he reached around Radim to pick up his sketchbook where it had been set down. "Smile for me," he said, finding a clean page and adding by way of explanation, "I also do informal portraits. The light's good, now."

"Our sunsets are very romantic," Radim agreed, and reached out to trace one finger down Lorne's cheek. "I refuse to run for reelection. Five years from now I'll just be a scientist with badly outdated credentials and a decent pension scheme." He pulled a timepiece from his pocket and gave it an ostentatious stare. "Five hours from now the tedious ceremony and bland food will be behind us, and I know where you're staying."

"Nice to know you are good at long-term and short-term planning," Lorne told him. "Raise your chin, just a bit -- there."

"Some people would just say yes, you know." Radim quirked an eyebrow up, and Lorne captured it in charcoal.

"I'm very bad at being seduced," Lorne said, keeping a straight face. "But yes anyway."

Radim's smile was brilliant; Lorne took a deep breath and tried to do justice to the stolen moment, and the happiness, and the future being built there, in the dazzling Genii sunset.

~*~
end
~*~