A soul painter was coming to town.
The news spread through Colorado Springs like wildfire. The last well-known soul painter had been Sir Joshua Reynolds almost a century ago. Apart from rumors of hermits and mystics in rural villages in exotic places in the mountains of foreign lands, there had not been a true soul painter since then.
According to legend, both Da Vinci and Michelangelo had been soul painters, but no one knew which, if any, of the portraits they’d done had been of patrons’ soulmates.
Predictably, most of the flutter was among the young, unmarried women in town. Soul painters were notoriously choosy about who they painted for. Some said it was because not everyone had a soulmate, and a soul painter could only paint for someone who had a soulmate. Others said it was because they were much burdened by their gift, and they could only paint so many soulmates before their gift died - or burned them out.
Rodney didn’t much care about the furor over this rumored soul painter. He and Mr. Tesla were close to some very important breakthroughs about wireless electrical current, and he had to spend a lot of time in the lab.
That Jeannie was interested in going to see this soul painter was beyond baffling.
“You’re married and have a beautiful child and a picture-perfect family,” Rodney said, leaning over his workbench and scratching in the margins of the latest round of calculations.
Jeannie clucked her tongue disapprovingly, unhooked the pencil from one of the many chains on her chatelaine, and corrected one of his figures.
Rodney sighed but didn’t protest.
“I’m still curious,” Jeannie said. “And you need a break, as demonstrated by your execrable arithmetic skills just now. Come on. I want to see.”
“Fine. We’ll go see him when he arrives.”
“Or her,” Jeannie said tartly. “And the painter is here. At Madam Weir’s.”
Madam Weir ran a fine bookshop and café. Rodney often frequented the place for his coffee. It was a lively, energetic place, where great minds could meet and grand ideas could be exchanged. It was also where he and Radek had their weekly chess games (usually when Mr. Tesla had tired of both of them and they of him).
Rodney nodded. “All right. We can go.”
They had their jackets on and were out the door in no time at all.
There was already a sizeable crowd gathered outside of Madam Weir’s. Rodney and Jeannie paused in the street. What was the best way into the shop? Did they want to even try to get in?
There was no need, Rodney realized. In the window, where there was usually a table for two, so one might enjoy a book and some coffee or chess in the sunlight, were two stools, an easel - and a young man.
Rodney had imagined soul painters as old, wizened men, like Michelangelo or Da Vinci, with flowing white beards and artist smocks, or perhaps bejeweled, beautiful women like the oracles at Delphi. But the young man in the window wore dusty trousers and sturdy leather boots and a waistcoat, his sleeves rolled up to the elbows. He had broad shoulders and strong hands, a neat little beard, and short, neat hair.
The satchel at his feet looked like it was military-issue.
The War of the States, Rodney realized. Had he fought in it? How did a soldier become a soul painter?
But then Madam Weir was speaking to him, and he was nodding. He followed her away from the window, and the two of them appeared in the doorway of the bookshop.
“Please,” Madam Weir began. Her voice carried well. “Be calm and orderly. Mr. Lorne is only with us for a brief while so as to share his talent as far and wide as possible. His choices of patron are final and not subject to further debate.”
Everyone in the crowd nodded.
“Now please form a queue, and selections will begin.”
Jeannie tugged Rodney into the queue, which started at the door and went all the way down the street and around the corner and might possibly take up the entire block.
“Jeannie,” Rodney hissed. “What are you doing?”
“It’s not for me,” Jeannie said. “It’s for you.”
“But I -”
“There are soulmates in the McKay line,” Jeannie said primly.
They were standing behind an inordinate number of young women and their hopeful mothers.
Most of whom were turned away after Mr. Lorne looked them over and shook his head. Some of them even cried.
Mama, does this mean I don’t have a soulmate?
Maybe it means you’ll find him easily, dear.
As it turned out, Mr. Lorne also refused outright anyone who was already married.
“It makes sense, I suppose,” Jeannie said. “What if someone is married to a person other than their soulmate? I wouldn’t want to be responsible for such marital discord.”
Mr. Lorne was fairly handsome himself, a strong jaw, clear blue eyes, and a soft mouth.
Rodney didn’t want to stand in the line, find out that he had no soulmate or wasn’t worth the time of a young, probably inexperienced and un-talented soul painter (not every soul painter was a skilled painter).
Jeannie knew him too well and kept a firm grip on his arm, and then they were at the front of the line.
“Dr. McKay, Mrs. Miller,” Madam Weir said, surprise in her eyes.
“Oh, I’m not here for me,” Jeannie said. “I’m here for my brother.”
“You have no need of my services,” Mr. Lorne said, “because you already know who your soulmate is, and you wake up beside him every day.”
Jeannie’s eyes went wide, but then she smiled, pleased.
Well, if Kaleb Miller, disappointing English teacher, was Jeannie’s soulmate, Rodney really couldn’t begrudge her marrying him and starting a family. At least Jeannie still helped him in the lab sometimes. Like today. Mostly she helped to get him out of the lab.
Mr. Lorne turned to Rodney, and his eyes widened.
Rodney rolled his eyes. “Of course, unlike my sister, I have no soulmate -”
Mr. Lorne leaned over to Madam Weir, whispered in her ear, and she nodded, turned and hurried away.
Then Mr. Lorne reached into his pocket and drew out a small sketchbook. He flipped through it rapidly, his eyes still wide, and then he actually tore out a page. Handed it to Rodney.
On it was a sketch of - a man. Wearing a Rebel officer’s uniform, rifle in one hand, cap in the other. He had wildly spiky hair and curiously pointed ears, like the fae of legend Grandma McKay had always gone on about. The man was slender, lean. Handsome.
“Did you draw this?” Rodney asked. It was an excellent sketch, very lifelike. Rodney felt as though any moment the man would step off of the paper and into life.
“Yes,” Mr. Lorne said earnestly.
“You are very talented, but why are you giving this to me?”
“Because,” Mr. Lorne said, “that’s your soulmate.”
Rodney looked down at the sketch, then up at Mr. Lorne. “But - aren’t you supposed to - to paint my soulmate?”
“I already painted his soulmate, and it’s you,” Mr. Lorne said.
Jeannie clutched Rodney’s arm very tightly, her eyes also wide. “Then you know my brother’s soulmate? Where is he?”
Madam Weir returned with a man in tow.
The man from the sketch.
“I didn’t hear any noise. It sounded like everyone was being pretty orderly to me,” he was saying, and then he stopped short. Looked Rodney up and down.
“Hell’s bells,” the man said, and the people behind Rodney in line gasped at the epithet.
“Sir,” Mr. Lorne said, “this is your soulmate.”
“I know. I’ve looked at his face every day since you painted it for me.” The man fumbled in his pocket, came up with a pocket watch, flipped it open, looked down into it, looked up at Rodney again. Then he stepped closer, his expression solemn and awed.
“What does your watch say? ‘Time to meet my soulmate’?” Rodney tended to babble when he was nervous.
Jeannie squeezed his arm in warning.
The man held his watch out for Rodney to look at, and Rodney saw, inlaid in the cover, a beautifully-painted miniature of himself, from his crooked mouth to his blue eyes to the gold-brown of his hair.
“Hello, soulmate. My name is John Sheppard,” the man said. In person he was also beautiful, with dark hair and eyes too many colors to name, gold and green and gray and hazel and blue, and when he smiled, a piece of Rodney that he’d never known was missing slotted into place.
“My name is Rodney McKay,” he said.
John leaned in and kissed him.
Rodney closed his eyes and surrendered to the sensation, felt John’s hands settle lightly at his waist.
There was a chorus of dreamy sighs behind him.
Rodney pulled back from the kiss, remembering they were in public.
Madam Weir stood beside Mr. Lorne, smiling.
“Happy patrons before you’ve laid down a single brush stroke,” she said.
Jeannie, who’d let go of Rodney’s arm as soon as John came near, turned to Madam Weir. “What do we owe you? The gift you’ve given my brother is invaluable, but -”
“The price has already been paid,” Mr. Lorne said. “Colonel Sheppard gave me my life.”
John looked at him, nodded. “I suppose this is where we part ways.”
Mr. Lorne smiled briefly. “I told you to stay with me once the fighting was done.”
“That you did. Glad I listened. So, Rodney.” John turned to him.
He loved the sound of his name on John’s lips.
“Let me gather my gear and we can go.”
Rodney started to nod, then paused. “Go? Where?”
“Wherever you want me to,” John said.
“I - well, after this I supposed I planned on going back to the lab,” Rodney said. “Ah - you used to be a soldier? What did you do, before that?”
“Before that I was studying mathematics at Harvard.” John’s expression was rueful. “Not much call for calculus on the battlefield.”
The man really was his soulmate.
“But I am a physicist and an engineer, and I have much call for it,” Rodney said. “Get your things, and you can come home with me.”
John’s expression softened. “Home. I like the sound of that.”
He kissed Rodney again, and Rodney couldn’t help but smile. Jeannie would be insufferable for the rest of her life - good thing Rodney had left the lab on her advice, wasn’t it? - but every second from here on out would be worth it.
Ronon didn’t like coming into town because he didn’t much like people, but he did like staying fed and warm, so the occasional trip into Colorado Springs to resupply was worth it.
The keys to his survival were good trail rations, weapons, and ammo. He carried all the traditional weapons of his people - knives, bows and arrows, hatchets - but also some modern weapons. In addition to the tools he needed to hunt and trap, he also liked good books. Poetry was his favorite, but he’d taken a liking to Ben Jonson’s plays as of late. Of course, no playwright aficionado could call himself such without reading at least a little bit of Shakespeare.
Once Ronon had stopped by the dry goods store for his camping supplies, he strolled down the main street to Madam Weir’s bookshop so he could pick up some new volumes to while away the lonely hours by his campfire. As he approached, he saw that quite a crowd was gathered outside the usually quiet establishment, that there was a line stretching from the door to the street corner.
He slowed, eyes narrowed, scanning the crowd for the source of the commotion, the cause for the gathering, any sign of danger or violence.
Madam Weir herself stood in the doorway of the shop, two unfamiliar men with her. They were speaking to the loud and cranky (but apparently very brilliant) Dr. McKay and his sister. And then one of the men leaned in, kissed Dr. McKay, and Ronon was very confused.
He prowled closer, scanning the crowd again, assessing for threats, but the crowd was mostly women and girls. Ronon noticed the stools and easel set up in the window where Dr. McKay and his chess partner, an Eastern European man with wild hair and energetic speech, usually sat for their games and coffee. Was Madam Weir doing away with the café portion of her bookshop?
Dr. McKay and the man who’d kissed him walked away from the bookshop, hand in hand. The stranger had a military-issue pack slung over one shoulder. Dr. McKay’s sister, the intellectually formidable Mrs. Miller, was walking with them, smiling and talking very excitedly.
Ronon edged closer. If everyone else was gathered outside, that probably meant the bookshop itself was quiet and he could browse in peace, without people staring at him and whispering about him when they thought he couldn’t hear.
Madam Weir and the strange man beside her examined the next few people in line, dismissed them. Were they looking for someone in particular? The way the man studied each person before him was intense, searching, but then he’d shake his head when he didn’t find whatever it was he sought. Ronon considered the best way to get around the crowd and to the door - and then the man looked up and spotted him. Caught his eye.
Ronon was trapped by the man’s blue gaze, like an insect on a pin. He was sliced open and gutted, every last wound and secret and dream laid bare under the man’s scrutiny. For a moment, Ronon couldn’t move. Then he growled and shook himself out, broke the man’s stare.
He started to turn away, but Madam Weir called out,
He eyed her warily, edged a little closer. “What?”
“Mr. Lorne is a soul painter,” she said, “and if you wish it, he’ll paint you a portrait of your soulmate.”
That brought Ronon up short. “My soulmate?”
A girl burst out, “Him? But we’ve been waiting -”
Madam Weir fixed the girl with a sharp look, and she huddled against her mother’s side.
“Only if you wish it,” Mr. Lorne said.
Ronon studied him right back. The man was built strong across the shoulders and chest. He carried himself not like a painter but like a soldier.
Ronon wanted to get into the shop to look at some books. He knew the way the finely-dressed matrons and their daughters were looking at him in his massive coat of skins and furs, the many weapons he carried. Did they think he had no soul worth a mate?
“I wish it,” he said, and went to push past the crowd, but it parted before him.
Madam Weir said, “Please, feel free to go about your business. When Mr. Lorne is finished with Ronon’s portrait, selection will resume.”
A chorus of disappointed protests rose from the people in the line. It was Teyla, Madam Weir’s business partner, who suggested that everyone in the line add their names to a list, and when the painting was near completion, messengers would be sent out to make the announcement, and people could be considered in the order in which they had signed up, and anyone who was not present in the line now could add their names to the list.
Ronon liked Teyla. She was practical, smart, and also highly skilled in combat. She caught his eye, smiled, and he smiled back at her briefly.
Mr. Lorne led him into the bookshop, invited him to get comfortable on the stool facing the easel. While Ronon was setting down his purchases and shrugging out of his coat and removing his bigger weapons - he was never without weapons altogether - Mr. Lorne was preparing his brushes and mixing watercolors.
“Not oils?” Ronon asked.
Mr. Lorne was not surprised that Ronon knew different types of artistic media, but then he was a soul painter, and he’d seen into Ronon’s soul.
“Watercolors are cheaper, last longer, and also they don’t take so long to dry, so you can leave with your painting today. Would you like a full-sized portrait or a miniature so you can keep it with you at all times?”
Ronon considered. “I’d take a sketch.” Then, because he was still feeling a bit rebellious, he asked, “Could you make it look like a Wanted poster?”
Mr. Lorne laughed. His entire face lit up, and he went from an ordinary, weary soldier to someone joyous and free - and just a little bit otherworldly.
“That I can do. I’ll wash in the color to make it interesting, and then I’ll sketch her face in.”
“Her?” Ronon asked. He’d taken many lovers, men and women, since his almost-wife’s passing.
Mr. Lorne nodded.
“How still do you need me to sit?” Ronon asked.
“Since I’m not painting you, you can move around. Stay comfortable.” Mr. Lorne began to spread color across the canvas with broad, easy strokes.
“Then why am I sitting here, like a model?”
“Well, I need to be able to look into your soul.” Mr. Lorne peeked around the edge of the canvas and grinned.
“You already saw into my soul.”
“You noticed that.” Mr. Lorne’s smile faded, his expression turning serious. His hands stilled. “Most people can’t feel it.”
“I’m not most people.”
Mr. Lorne flicked a glance at Ronon’s supplies and pile of weapons. “No, you’re not.”
Ronon tugged his stool around so he could watch Mr. Lorne work. His hands were strong, rough, battle-scarred and callused from work, but his motions were delicate, exacting. He was an artist.
A woman was coming to life beneath his hands, round-cheeked and sweet-faced, with dark golden hair, a small nose, dark eyes. Mr. Lorne had washed the canvas with only a few colors - her hair, her skin, the pink of her dress, a fancy affair with sleeves that were puffy and ruffled at the shoulders, a modest neckline. Her smile was bright and beaming. She looked like a kind person.
“Who is she?” Ronon asked.
Mr. Lorne shrugged. “I only know what she looks like.”
Ronon studied him. He was probably only about a decade Ronon’s senior, about the same age as Madam Weir.
“Who’s your soulmate?”
“I don’t have one.”
Ronon blinked. “What?”
“It’s part of the price of my gift.”
“Part? What’s the rest of it?”
Before Mr. Lorne could answer, a commotion rose at the front of the shop, a slammed door and loud voices. Ronon was on his feet and in front of Mr. Lorne, hunting knife in hand.
Mr. Lorne had drawn a pistol.
An older man in a fine suit stormed toward them, dragging someone with him. A young woman.
Teyla and Madam Weir scrambled after him.
“Sir,” Madam Weir was saying, “unhand her at once.”
“Papa, please,” the woman was begging.
Ronon recognized her immediately. His soulmate. She was wearing a fancy pink dress, but she looked pale and upset, the opposite of her sweet smile in the portrait.
The man dragged her toward Mr. Lorne.
She screamed and shrank back when she saw his pistol. Mr. Lorne lowered it immediately, stammering out an apology.
The man stepped in front of her. “What is this madness? You have thugs and thieves in your establishment, Madam Weir!”
Teyla had an arm around the young woman’s shoulders.
“On the contrary,” Madam Weir said tartly, “Mr. Lorne is the soul painter, and Ronon is the patron you have so rudely intruded upon.”
The man blinked.
Ronon lowered his knife.
The man reached out, tugged his daughter away from Teyla, thrust her toward Mr. Lorne.
“Good sir, I beg of you, please, help my daughter find her soulmate.”
Teyla said, “Mr. Keller, we have made arrangements so everyone in town can be considered fairly. If you would just add your name to the list like the other potential patrons -”
“Please,” Mr. Keller said. “My wife has passed and I am not enough for Jennifer’s happiness. I will do anything, pay anything -”
“Papa,” Jennifer said, tugging free. “I should wait my turn, like everyone else. And we - we’re just fine. Yes, I miss Mama too, but we’re all right, you and me.” She smiled nervously at Mr. Lorne, and Ronon could see traces of the smile on Mr. Lorne’s canvas.
Mr. Lorne smiled gently at her. “Your father’s concern for you is commendable. I suppose the only price I can ask is an apology for the slander on my character and Ronon’s - we are neither thugs nor thieves.”
Mr. Keller nodded. “Yes, yes, of course, I do apologize, I’m sure you are both fine upstanding gentlemen -”
“And Ronon is your soulmate,” Mr. Lorne said to Jennifer.
She stared at him. “Pardon?”
Mr. Lorne turned the easel for her to see. “As I was interrupted it’s incomplete, but I think the likeness is accurate enough.” He hadn’t made it to the lettering for the Wanted portion of the poster yet, which, given the circumstances, was probably a good thing.
Mr. Keller’s expression turned enraged. “What? This is preposterous. You - you charlatan -” he spat at Mr. Lorne.
Mr. Lorne raised his hands in a gesture of surrender. “I’ve never seen your daughter before. Ronon happened to be passing by and I saw that the probability of him finding his soulmate was high, so I thought I’d give him a nudge in the right direction. I’ve never met him before either. Have you ever seen Miss Keller before?”
Ronon shook his head. “Don’t spend much time around people.”
Mr. Keller snatched up Jennifer’s hand. “And you will spend no time with my daughter.” He started to drag her to the door.
“Papa,” Jennifer protested, “let me go. If he’s my soulmate -”
Mr. Keller hauled her all the way out of the shop while Madam Weir and Teyla watched, dumbfounded.
“Can he - can he do that?” Madam Weir asked.
“He is her father.” Teyla looked shaken.
Mr. Lorne said, “I’m just the painter.” He looked at Ronon. “What people do after they know the face - or identity - of their soulmate is up to them.”
Ronon wasn’t sure what he wanted to do. It wasn’t like he could kidnap Jennifer. That was still illegal, soulmates or not.
Ronon took a deep breath, plopped back down on the stool. “Well, how about we start with you finishing the poster?”
Mr. Lorne studied him for a moment, then nodded. “All right. I can do that.” To Madam Weir and Teyla he said, “I’ll just carry on, then.” And he resumed his seat, picked up one of his pens, and continued to draw.
When the poster was finished, Mr. Lorne unclipped it from his easel, rolled it up carefully, and gave it to Ronon. Ronon thanked him, paid him with a fine knife he’d made himself, and then he packed up his gear and set off.
He’d head to the next down over, get a printer to make duplicates of the poster. Then he’d post them all over the state, from Colorado Springs to Denver to Grand Junction, and let Jennifer Keller decide what happened next.
After the fifth watercolor portrait Mr. Lorne produced, Teyla intervened. Young Jinto and Wex had been acting as runners, going about town to let people know when a portrait was completed so those on the list who still wished to be considered could come by the bookshop to be looked at. Even though Teyla and Elizabeth were diligently crossing names off the list, the thing seemed to grow and grow, people adding their names faster than names were crossed off.
Mr. Lorne had managed a brief afternoon snack between the second and third portraits, but evening had arrived and the lighting in his little painting nook was poor, and he looked pale and tired even though he was smiling as he bade his patron farewell.
Jinto and Wex were about to bolt out the door to go make another run of announcements, but Teyla shook her head.
“Go home, get supper. If Mr. Lorne wishes to continue painting after supper, I will let you know.”
They nodded and ducked out of the shop, eager for home cooking.
Mr. Lorne was in the small kitchen behind the counter of the café washing his paintbrushes when Teyla approached him, offered him supper.
“I was going to have some trail rations and start on my next painting,” he said.
Teyla smiled but shook her head. “The light is poor and you need to rest. Colorado Springs will have its share of you tomorrow.”
“Are you sure? Madam Weir is putting me up free of charge, and Sheppard was supposed to be helping her out, but now he’s gone -”
“I am sure. Have supper with me and Elizabeth,” Teyla said.
“If it’s no trouble -”
“It is not,” Teyla assured him. She helped him pack away his painting supplies for the night, and then he followed her to the house she shared with Elizabeth.
He tried to help her in the kitchen, said he’d been the camp cook while he was in the Army, but Teyla insisted he rest, so he sat at the table and watched her cook, clearly itching to jump up and join in all the while.
Elizabeth returned to the house after she closed down the bookshop, and she was kind enough to massage Mr. Lorne’s wrists and arms while Teyla cooked, Mr. Lorne blushing all the while.
Mr. Lorne did finally convince Teyla and Elizabeth to let him help set the table, which was mostly him following Elizabeth around the kitchen and holding things because he didn’t actually know where any of the dishes or silverware were kept.
He was effusive with his praise of Teyla’s cooking, which she knew wasn’t the best, but she was working to improve it.
“So how does it work?” Elizabeth asked. “You look at someone and know who their soulmate is - if they have one - and how likely it is they’ll find that person?”
“People call us soul painters, but soul painting is only one facet of The Sight,” Mr. Lorne said.
Teyla raised her eyebrows. “The Sight?” Davos, who had been a leader of a tribe that traded with Teyla’s, had been hailed as a seer, able to see the future.
Mr. Lorne nodded. “We can choose what we See, when we’re children. Some people become diviners, others geniuses, or springsweets, or otherwise talented prodigies. Some people don’t even realize that they have The Sight, are drawn to one thing when they’re young and excel at it naturally. Like Dr. McKay - he Sees the universe and how it works. Beethoven could See - well, hear - the music of the universe.”
Elizabeth eyed him. “And you can see -”
“People’s soulmates. It’s an aspect of divination, really. A pretty rare one.”
“Rare because few people choose it,” Teyla said.
Mr. Lorne nodded again. “These mashed potatoes are delicious. Thank you.”
“Is it particularly difficult?” Elizabeth asked.
Mr. Lorne shook his head. “No. I mean - the drawing and painting is a separate skill, one we have to train for the hard way, but most of us don’t see it as a hardship, because it’s frustrating, not being able to communicate what we See. But the actual Seeing - that’s not hard.”
“So the art is difficult.”
“Not if you love it. My mother is a painter.” Mr. Lorne’s expression turned fond at the mention of his mother.
“Do you have a soulmate?” Teyla asked.
Mr. Lorne shook his head. “No. That’s part of the price I pay, for the path I chose to See. But plenty of people find happiness without a soulmate.”
“Part of the price,” Elizabeth said. “What’s the other part?”
“For every image I create of a soulmate, my life is shortened by a single day.”
Teyla stared at him. “You painted five portraits today.”
Mr. Lorne nodded and continued eating.
“Five portraits is five days,” Elizabeth said, sounding faint.
Mr. Lorne shrugged. “But what is one day weighed against a lifetime of happiness?”
Teyla thought of the way Rodney and Colonel Sheppard had looked at each other, then looked at Mr. Lorne. He set down his knife and fork, dabbed delicately at his mouth with the linen serviette Elizabeth had given him.
“Do you need help with dishes?”
“No, please, you’re our guest, we’re honored to have you,” Elizabeth said, though her words faltered, because when they’d invited him to come paint for the people of Colorado Springs, they’d invited him to hasten the day of his death.
Which he’d hastened himself, fighting in the War of the States, but -
“Thank you,” Mr. Lorne said. He repaired to the den, where he sat on the floor with his back against the settee. Elizabeth and Teyla were sharing a bed so he could have Teyla’s bed, which he’d also tried to protest, but Colonel Sheppard had explained that both of them were used to sleeping rough on the battlefield, that sleeping in luxury felt like excess and gluttony, and it would take them both a while to feel comfortable, agreeing to indulge themselves so.
Originally the plan had been for Mr. Lorne and Colonel Sheppard to share the bed, but tonight Colonel Sheppard would be sharing a bed with someone else.
Mr. Lorne had his sketchbook open on his knee, pen flying across the page.
“You really do love art, don’t you?” Elizabeth asked.
Mr. Lorne looked up at her and smiled. “I do. I had little time for it during the war, so I am making up for lost time.”
And he had lost a lot more time than just marching in battle.
Mr. Lorne was awake long after Elizabeth and Teyla retired to bed, still curled on the floor in front of the settee, drawing.
He was up before Elizabeth and Teyla, fixing them breakfast of flapjacks and pancakes, and then he accompanied Elizabeth to the bookshop to prepare to paint for more patrons.
To sacrifice more of his life.
Teyla went to fetch her shawl and her knives before she left the house, and she paused.
Someone had left a piece of paper on the foyer table. Not just a piece of paper - a sketch. A portrait of a man Teyla recognized from her own tribe, Kanaan. She hadn’t thought of him in a long time.
And then she realized. Her soulmate. Mr. Lorne had left her a sketch of her soulmate.
He had given her one day of his life.
Teyla clutched the sketch. One day of his life for a lifetime of happiness for someone else. She would go find Kanaan and see if they could make that happiness happen.
Evan was quite sure that Madam Weir hadn’t told anyone about the price of his gift, though she and Teyla both cast him sad looks when Teyla explained that she was going to return to her people and seek out the man who was her soulmate and had the potential to make her happy.
Madam Weir had wished her good luck and godspeed, then opened the front doors of the bookshop to admit some customers looking to purchase books - and people on the waiting list to be examined for soulmate potential. She hadn’t asked Evan to look into the matter of her soulmate. Perhaps she already knew what Evan had seen, that her soulmate was married to someone else. Evan had seen him when he’d accompanied his wife and daughter to seek after the daughter’s soulmate.
Evan painted six portraits that day: for a railroad worker named Stackhouse, of another young man; for a boy named Charlie (whose father Jack had three soulmates and a choice to make) of a girl who rather favored Dr. McKay, so perhaps she was not yet born; for a woman named Samantha (who had two soulmates, one of them Charlie’s father Jack); for a large, strong man named Murray, whose wife had died years ago, of another beautiful woman; for a bookish man named Daniel (who also had two soulmates, one of whom was also Charlie’s father Jack); and Sarah, whose soulmate was a woman Evan already knew.
It would not cost Evan anything, to sketch out a picture of Sarah to give to his acquaintance Vala, so he finished Sarah’s portrait of Vala quickly and then used the remaining time to capture Sarah’s face for Vala.
Evan finished painting for the day and helped Elizabeth close up the shop. But he couldn’t stand the way she kept looking at him so sadly, so he found supper at a local saloon instead, sat in the corner and read while he ate so no one bothered him. Most of the men in the establishment were more interested in drinking and dice and women, so he was left alone, but sometimes he felt the weight of a gaze on him, heard the whispers of soul painter and seer.
Evan still felt the weight of a gaze on him after he paid for his meal and left the saloon, headed back to Madam Weir’s house.
Halfway there he ducked down an alley between two buildings, waited, counted, listened - pounced.
On Jennifer Keller, who was clad not in a fluffy pink dress but trousers and shirtsleeves and a waistcoat like a man.
“I mean you no harm,” she said, eyes wide when she saw Evan’s knife.
He sheathed it, stepped back from her. “Miss Keller.”
“I want to find my soulmate.”
“I only met him yesterday. I don’t know where to find him.”
“But I know you’re leaving town. Take me with you.”
“And be arrested for kidnapping?”
“Please,” Jennifer begged. “I’m of an age where I can take care of myself. I’m a fine physician. For all his faults, my father taught me well. I’d be useful on a long journey.”
Evan studied her for a long moment, sighed. “Fine. I’m setting out first thing in the morning. Meet me outside of town.”
Jennifer nodded. “Of course. Thank you.” She hurried away.
“First light,” Evan called after her.
He watched her vanish into the darkness, scanned his surroundings in case her father had set men on her to watch her, then returned to Madam Weir’s. As the night before, he slept on the floor in front of the settee, pistol and knife to hand should anyone enter the house uninvited.
He rose before the sun, again fixed breakfast for his hostess, for Teyla was still gone to her people. He was packed and ready to depart as the sun rose. Madam Weir, her expression still grave for him, escorted him to the edge of town just as a stage coach rolled in.
The coach was crewed by Cameron Mitchell, who’d been a Rebel officer, and the mad cowgirl Vala, who was as fast with a pistol as she was with a knife and a horse. Cameron helped Evan stow his belongings on the rack at the back of the coach while Vala greeted Madam Weir, asked Evan about his destination.
“Wherever the wind takes me,” he said with a smile.
Vala eyed him, unimpressed. “The wind isn’t exactly a cheap destination.”
“And you know I earn my keep,” Evan said, because the townspeople who’d been able to afford to had paid him very well for his services.
Jennifer arrived, arrayed once more in men’s clothing. “Got room for one more?”
Vala raised her eyebrows. “If you can pay.”
Jennifer hefted a small purse of coins. “I can.”
Vala smiled. “Then yes.” She snapped her fingers at Cameron, who moved to help Jennifer stow her gear.
Madam Weir raised her eyebrows, cast Evan a questioning look, but he shrugged and lifted his hands in surrender. This wasn’t his plan. Jennifer avoided Madam Weir’s gaze, attempting to be as nonchalant as possible, but it didn’t really work. Finally Madam Weir stepped toward her, beckoned her closer, and they had a soft conversation, likely about the best places to find Ronon.
“Thank you for having me,” Evan said to Madam Weir, once her conference with Jennifer was finished. He climbed up onto the driver’s seat beside Cameron, leaving Vala to ride on the back and keep watch and Jennifer to sit inside.
“No, thank you,” Madam Weir said.
“Anything you wish to ask me before I go?”
Madam Weir shook her head.
Evan bade her farewell, and then Cameron clicked his tongue and the horses lurched into action.
“How was it?” Vala asked over the rattle of the coach.
“Fruitful, as always,” Evan said.
Vala shook her head. “I don’t know why you do it.”
“Because I’m a hopeless romantic.”
“Where’s Shep?” Cameron asked.
“His soulmate was in that town.” Evan glanced over his shoulder at it. “As is yours, Vala. I painted you for her.”
Vala’s expression turned solemn. “I know. I’ll stop in and see her on the way back.”
Cameron looked surprised. “Does she know?”
“She does now, I suppose.”
The coach rattled along until the town had vanished beneath the horizon and the world was nothing but desert grass and castle rocks and strange, alien-looking formations, and then Cameron pulled the horses to a halt with a whoa and a click of his tongue.
Jennifer poked her head out of the coach, confused and alarmed when she saw Evan and Cameron jump down from the driver’s seat. “Why are we stopping?”
“Ride up front with me,” Vala said, jumping down from the back.
“Oh, all right.” Jennifer scrambled to obey. “It’ll be a nice change of scenery, I suppose.”
Evan and Cameron climbed into the coach, settled themselves on the seats, pulled the shades down to block out the already-bright sunlight.
Vala spurred the horses into action with a sharp cry.
Evan allowed the momentum of the coach to carry him into Cameron’s arms. The rattle and squeak of the carriage would drown out the sounds of their passionate embrace.
“I’ve missed you,” Cameron murmured, pulling Evan into a kiss.
“And I you.”
“You keep giving away days.”
“I give the ones that count to you.”
Evan Lorne needed no soulmate, because he had love, and he had art, and he would have both for at least a thousand sunsets more. He closed his eyes and surrendered to Cameron’s kiss and resolved to paint his love into Cameron’s skin.
“I love you,” Cameron said, peeling Evan’s clothes off.
“And I you,” Evan said, and returned the favor.
Soon Vala would take a horse and ride ahead with the news.
A soul painter was coming to town.