He's away on the mainland when it happens, running the newest squad of Marines through a few thousand rounds of P-90 ammunition.
The long-distance range is set up near a good swimming beach. Sheppard's idea, and Lorne appreciates that sort of foresight in a commander. High summer on the mainland is no joke, and it makes for popular officers when you can order your troops into the water after three sweltering hours of squinting at targets. Or you can threaten to cancel swim time if their scores aren't up to the mark, too. Good motivation.
He gets a kick out of watching them. Mostly they act like soldiers everywhere on a bit of downtime: yelling insults, competing to dunk each other, the guys showing off a little for the squad's two women. But they're all new to Atlantis and too young to be jaded, and Lorne periodically catches the same expression on every face. That flash of wonder when they look around themselves and go, Holy shit, alien ocean on an alien planet. This is too cool.
Lorne doesn't blame them. It's almost six months since he left Earth, but when he's not busy almost dying, he still thinks the same thing.
Jumper Three is full of boisterous chatter and sandy clothes and the smell of the ocean as he flies them back. Lorne has a surreal moment of feeling like a carpool mom with a minivan, if the neighborhood kids were heavily armed and trained to kill. He's still grinning to himself as he steers into the jumper bay.
The grin vanishes instantly when they touch down and he sees David waiting near the door, strangely pale and rocking nervously on his heels.
The Marines collect their gear and pile out, and Lorne calls, "Hey, Dr. Parrish. Be with you in a second," in a carefully offhand tone. He busies himself checking ammunition boxes and making sure they've all cleared their weapons, and he doesn't look at David again until the last lance corporal departs for the armory.
The instant the door shuts he's across the bay in a handful of quick strides, already scanning David's face for a clue. Something is seriously wrong for David to search him out during the day when they don't have a work pretext. "What? What the hell is it?"
"Colonel Sheppard knows," David says helplessly. "Evan, he knows everything."
He feels like his mind is flying in a hundred panicked directions, because he never expected this. Rumors or innuendo, yeah, or someone seeing David enter or leave his quarters, and he made various plans for minimizing the damage from those things. Twelve years in the military closet have taught him a lot about contingency plans.
His commander getting the unvarnished truth from David's brain with an Ancient telepathy device? Not a scenario he's ever imagined.
Lorne has to fight down a surge of hard, black anger and jealousy at the thought of precisely what Sheppard got, what he might have seen about David, because that is absolutely not the point of this. He doesn't have time to be territorial. He has to figure out if there's any possible way to save his career.
He forces himself to walk toward the infirmary at a normal pace. David said that Sheppard was still waiting to see if McKay was all right after the telepathy device disaster, so maybe Lorne can catch him there. See if he's talked to Weir or Caldwell yet, if Lorne might already have a space reserved when the Daedalus leaves in four days.
He doesn't know what to anticipate. Sheppard is just so damned hard to read. Lorne knows the man isn't a Christian extremist or anything, not like some of the officer corps, but beyond that he has no idea. He doesn't exactly make a habit of asking his commanders about their personal feelings toward fags.
Finding Sheppard turns out to be easy, because the colonel almost knocks Lorne over when he walks out of the infirmary. Lorne leaps back fast, trying to control the dread that threatens to choke him. "Sir, I was looking for you. Could I--"
Sheppard looks at him like he isn't there. "Not now, Major," he snaps in a flat, emotionless voice that Lorne's never heard from him, and then he shoves past Lorne and walks away.
Lorne stands outside the infirmary for almost five minutes before he pulls himself together enough to remember that David is waiting for him.
"This is all my fault," David says, sounding sick with anger and frustration as he paces a circle around Lorne's quarters. "I'm such an idiot, Evan, I let myself forget. How different it is for you -- I'm so stupid."
Watching him pace, Lorne experiences a sour rush of thinking that it won't be David looking for a meaningless security job in Phoenix when none of the airlines are hiring because of cutbacks. It won't be David who never goes through a stargate again.
The resentment passes almost immediately. He's ashamed of himself for feeling it at all.
"Hey, come here," he says, and reaches out to hook his fingers into David's belt. "You remember that I jumped you on the south pier that day? Knew what I was doing."
David sighs and lets Lorne tug him over to stand by the bed. He's so tense that he feels like he could break into pieces between Lorne's hands. "Pointless," he says in disgust. "I didn't need to be in the physics lab, I was only having coffee with Radek. I never should've left the greenhouses, I should--"
"David, stop," Lorne orders. "You couldn't know."
"Fucking Ancients and their science fair projects," David mutters, his hands coming up to thread into Lorne's hair, and Lorne can't help a brief, automatic grin. David swears so infrequently that it always sounds funny.
"Hey," he says quietly, wrapping both arms around David's waist and looking up. "I always knew the risks, right? Quit blaming yourself. Unless you can figure out how you should've anticipated a damn telepathy machine. Then you can feel free to blame yourself. And let me know, so I can blame you too."
David manages a reluctant smile that vanishes almost as soon as it appears. His eyes are sad and shadowed, and he says, "God, Evan. I'm so sorry. Just... I'm sorry."
"Again, not your fault," he repeats, and he's suddenly very tired. He can have some more helpings of panic and fear later, but for now he tightens his arms and pulls David closer.
"I didn't want to be your risk," David says abruptly. "I wish..."
Evan Lorne loves his country, but the rawness in David's voice makes him wish for long aching moments that he'd been born Dutch or Canadian or Australian. That he'd never had a conflict between his career and the rest of himself.
"Yeah," he says. "Me too."
David's hands keep moving through his hair, fingertips stroking gentle circles on his scalp, and Lorne closes his eyes and leans into the touch.
He's rougher than usual that night, and he knows it. David will have bruises tomorrow, but he can't make himself stop and David doesn't ask, just strains and gasps, "Evan," into his mouth, writhing beneath him. Lorne can only shove harder, driving himself into David's slick tight body, holding him down like David is struggling to get away rather than struggling to get closer. His hands keep moving frantically the whole time, pressing and clamping and trying to mark himself into every inch of David's skin, trying to pretend that he won't have to let go.
The morning is like torture. He doesn't see Sheppard until the ten o'clock staff meeting, and Sheppard is distracted and oddly quiet throughout it. Lorne has to exercise every bit of his self-control to sit without fidgeting. He got the message yesterday afternoon, so now he figures that Sheppard's trying to decide whether to send him back for discharge proceedings or simply have him reassigned without going into details. From the flat look in the man's eyes outside the infirmary, he's probably leaning toward the first option, but Lorne won't push him if there's a chance for the second one.
Sheppard doesn't speak to him after the meeting.
He has no appetite for lunch. His schedule is clear for the day, so he takes the opportunity (probably my last, his mind whispers) to go up in Jumper Three for atmospheric tests. He flies her up to mid-stratosphere, the highest point where he can still make out the shape of Atlantis below, and sits watching the curve of the horizon until Sergeant Redmond radios from the control room to ask when he's coming home.
Sheppard finally summons him in late afternoon. By the time his radio activates with the call -- short and pointed, Hey Lorne, come over to my office? Got some business for you -- it's a relief. Lorne feels like he would've gone crazy waiting much longer.
When he arrives at Sheppard's office, he has to stop in the hallway and take a couple of deep breaths. The end of his military career deserves all the dignity he can summon, even if nobody else gives a damn, and he won't give Sheppard the satisfaction of seeing his emotions.
He knocks once on the door and Sheppard says, "Yeah, come on in."
Lorne hasn't done this particular procedure in years, but he still remembers how. Straight line from the door, center himself on the senior officer two paces away from the desk. Heels together, shoulders back, spine straight, one hand curled along the seam of his trousers while the other snaps to the corner of his eyebrow in the sharpest salute he's probably given in his entire career, and he's proud of himself for the utter calm in his voice. "Sir, Major Lorne reports as ordered."
His eyes are locked directly ahead in the correct position of attention, so he can't see the expression on Sheppard's face, but he can tell that Sheppard is staring at him. You bastard, he seethes. Return the fucking salute, even if you plan to leave me at attention for everything else.
But Sheppard's tone, when he finally speaks, sounds nothing like Lorne was expecting. It sounds like he's smiling. "Okay, Major. You can cut it out, anytime now. Ha ha, very funny. You win, I broke first."
That's not in the script. That's not the way this is supposed to go. Lorne stays frozen for a few more seconds, confused, before his eyes flick down to assess his commander's expression.
Sheppard is looking at him with a mixture of irritation and amusement, and that's...wrong. Lorne frowns before he can stop himself, dropping his salute uneasily and staring at Sheppard, trying to figure out what's going on.
The amusement fades away as Sheppard returns his stare, and then his face twists in sudden comprehension, his eyes widening. "You thought -- jesus, Lorne, that's what you thought?"
Lorne doesn't think he's ever been knocked so completely off-balance. He opens his mouth but nothing comes out, and he has to nod jerkily, feeling his heart racing in his chest. An awful sense of hope is building inside him.
"What is wrong with everybody today?" Sheppard says to the ceiling. "I can't believe this. Are we in some alternate universe where I'm just a total asshole?"
Lorne can only stare back, his mouth hanging half-open.
Sheppard drops his forehead to the desk with a painful-sounding thud. "Lorne," he says in a muffled voice. "I don't care what you do with the scientists. Believe me, right now I really don't care. Don't ask me, I won't ask you. Get the hell out of my office, please."
Lorne feels a crazy, beaming smile trying to spread across his face, and he has to resist the urge to salute again. "Yes, sir," he says, and executes a textbook-perfect about-face to get himself out of there.
Going looking for David isn't the smartest idea, he knows. If this near-disaster has taught him anything, it's that they can't afford to take any chances, but Lorne is almost shaking with relief and nerves and he can't wait until tonight. Can't wait until supper, can't wait another five minutes.
David is in greenhouse two. Alone, thank god, because his self-control snaps immediately. David barely has time to look up from a potting tray before Lorne wraps him in a bone-crushing hug, yanking him off his feet and spinning in a clumsy circle. His laughter sounds a little strangled but it feels good, it feels so fucking good, and David starts laughing himself after a few startled seconds, David's hands tight on his shoulders as Lorne repeats over and over again, "It's okay, it's okay, god, it's okay," with his face pressed fiercely into the warm curve of David's neck.
He's leading a platoon formation to their morning run, marching them at ease toward the outdoor piers. He tries to do group PT with the Marines twice a week when his paperwork allows it, rather than taking solo runs in the afternoon. Can't let the jarheads talk too much shit about their zoomie XO, after all. And he likes morning runs, likes the ring of the cadence and the beat of their footsteps echoing through the city.
Up ahead he sees David come out of the greenhouses with Katie Brown, both of them looking around at the sound of the formation.
"Morning, doctors," Lorne says courteously as he approaches.
Dr. Brown smiles and returns his greeting. David nods without speaking, but Lorne can tell he's holding back a smile, his eyes twinkling briefly before he turns away.
He brings the formation back to attention as they reach the wide doors that lead outside. Waits until everyone is back in step before he picks up the count, arms and legs moving in easy tandem. The sunlight is warm on his shoulders as they run toward the north tower, the ocean breeze winding through the piers, his own voice calling steady cadence and Atlantis shining quietly all around them.