So you’re the new poster boy.
The words curved along Evan’s hip and dipped down toward his thigh, where no one could see them as long as he was wearing underwear. As soon as he’d been able to understand what the words meant, he knew what he had to do. If he wanted to find his soulmate, he had to be the best he could possibly be, sufficient to be called a poster boy, at something.
Not everyone had soulmarks, and not everyone had a soulmate. Evan’s soulmarks were stark and black in slopy, masculine-looking handwriting. His sister’s soulmarks were in blue, and she had several. There were strong matches for her out there, but no single soulmate. Neither of Evan’s parents had had soulmarks, or so Mom said. Nan had a soulmark, ringing her throat like a necklace, pale lavender words in another language. Grandpa had been one of many possibilities for Nan.
The problem with Evan was that the things he was good at were the things people on the commune didn’t like. He was good at sports, but not pretty ones like swimming or dancing. He was good with his hands, but not at sign language or weaving - he was accurate with a slingshot and a bow and arrow, a javelin. (He learned to draw and paint, because those required steady hands and a good eye as well.) What he wanted, more than anything, was to fly.
His best chance of being able to fly was working for The Man instead of sticking it to The Man. Also, being a good student and a hard worker was more likely to get him called ‘poster boy’ than being a rebel and a troublemaker (which actually made him a conformist at home, but whatever). So Evan worked hard, and he studied hard, and he made it into the Air Force Academy. He worked harder and studied harder, and he made it into Test Pilot School. Got his wings.
He was called a model officer more than once, and occasionally Flyboy, but rarely poster boy, and he learned early on in the military that poster boy wasn’t actually a compliment. So he kept his head down, and he kept working hard, and his hard work got him grounded.
No more flying planes.
Yes flying across the galaxy in a wormhole, scifi come to life.
And yes, doing his best to put his geophysics skills to use.
Being a model officer, Evan learned quickly, was not the same as being a decent human being. He followed Colonel Edwards’s orders like a model officer should, but he’d disregarded SGC protocol about what to do when a team discovered artifacts, and long story short, Lieutenant Ritter was dead.
Not just dead, but slaughtered and his corpse put on display like some kind of macabre scarecrow to warn away the humans, humans who’d pissed off the local Unas. They could have figured out there were Unas on the planet much sooner if Evan had followed damn protocol. If he’d risked upsetting his CO by being as good a scientist as he was a soldier, Ritter would still be alive.
So Evan ducked his head a little further, kept quiet, and did his job. He continued to do his best, because he didn’t know how else to do things, and somehow he figured out how to balance being a good soldier with being a good person - or so he thought. One day he was heading for General Landry’s office to drop off a report of the latest figures from the Unas mines when he almost ran headlong into an officer in dress blues.
He pulled up short, saw the silver oak leaves on the man’s shoulders. “Sorry, sir.”
The man, who had unbelievably unruly hair, looked Evan up and down with amusement, took in the name on his uniform, and said, “So you’re the new poster boy.”
“Sir?” Evan said weakly. His pulse stuttered. His soulmarks. This man had spoken them.
“Major Lorne, right?” Sheppard, the man’s name-plate read. He sounded completely calm, completely unfazed.
“Yes, sir.” Evan had finally found him. His soulmate. Okay, so the man outranked him. Evan was up for promotion in the zone a couple of years. Six months, maybe, if he went for it below the zone. There were exceptions to DADT for soulmates. Evan thought of what he’d said to Sheppard. Sir. Such a generic phrase. Sheppard had probably long given up ever finding his soulmate. Evan cleared his throat. “Sir -”
“Looks like you’re my new XO,” Sheppard said, and he still looked perfectly normal.
What? Sheppard was going to be his CO? For what? “Sir?” There was no exception to the chain of command. Ever. Not even for soulmates. Evan’s head spun. Was this what it felt like? Making that soulmate connection?
“On Atlantis.” Sheppard narrowed his eyes. “I sincerely hope you know more words than that.”
“I - yes, sir.” Evan brandished the file he was holding. “I have to give this to General Landry.” His head was still spinning. What should he do?
Sheppard stepped aside, the gesture magnanimous and sarcastic all at once. “By all means, Major.”
Evan swallowed. “Thank you, sir.” He raised his hand to knock on the General’s door, then paused, looked over his shoulder at Sheppard. Sheppard had bright eyes that Evan couldn’t put a color to, and he knew many, many colors. “I look forward to working with you, sir.” I know you, his body screamed. If Evan closed his eyes, he would be able to imagine, with impossible clarity, how Sheppard’s hands would feel on him.
Sheppard looked amused, but not like he was at all affected by what was happening between them. “You don’t know anything about me, do you?” Was anything actually happening between them?
Evan looked Sheppard up and down, studied his uniform, blinking rapidly. His heart was pounding. Sheppard was the one. Evan’s soulmate. He’d never believed it when people talked about that moment, that first meeting, that impossible knowing and connectedness that sprang out of nothing. He’d just always dreamed of a stable connection, of kindness and love, of that unbreakable bond mated souls described. “Lieutenant-Colonel Sheppard. You have your wings. You’ve received awards for -”
Sheppard raised his eyebrows. “You can identify all this on sight?” He gestured at the medals and ribbons on his jacket.
“It helps,” Evan said, “when meeting other officers. To be able to know a bit where they’ve been, what they’ve done. To avoid potential conversational pitfalls. Sir.” What was he saying? He should be confessing his soulmark to Sheppard, should be asking Sheppard to reconsider him as XO, should be -
“No wonder the only word you know is ‘sir’.” Sheppard huffed. “How do you talk to anyone?”
Evan tilted his head. “I’m talking to you, sir.” He searched Sheppard’s gaze, but the man appeared completely unmoved by Evan. Evan’s heart pounded in his ears, blood rushing. He felt fever-hot, and his vision was blurring around the edges.
And Sheppard smiled, actually smiled, no trace of sarcasm. Evan’s heart soared. He was beautiful. He was - he was Evan’s new CO. Evan swallowed hard. He had to tell Sheppard, had to -
The door opened, and General Landry said, “Major, I wondered where you were. Edwards said he dispatched you ten minutes ago.”
Evan spun around. “Sir!” He held out the report. “Apologies. I was -”
“Waylaid by me, sir,” Sheppard said. “Pure coincidence that we ran into each other. But once you’re done with him, I’d like a word with him. If he’s going to be my XO -”
General Landry plucked the report from Evan’s hand. “Actually, I summoned him here so I could tell him about his new assignment, see if he would change his mind.”
Sheppard raised his eyebrows. “Change his mind?”
“Major Lorne’s a natural gene carrier,” Landry said. “He was eligible for assignment on the first wave, but -”
“Having another major might have been nice, given that my XO was a lieutenant,” Sheppard said, a certain sharpness in his tone that Evan would never have dared take with a superior officer, especially one who outranked him as much as Landry did Sheppard.
“But Major Lorne was necessary on a mining operation.” Landry smiled, not quite nicely. “Thank you, Major. Colonel, he’s all yours.”
“Lucky me,” Sheppard said flatly.
Evan’s throat closed. Sheppard didn’t like him, hadn’t called him a poster boy as a compliment. Landry retreated into his office and closed his door behind him, rather pointedly, leaving Sheppard and Evan alone in the hallway.
Sheppard looked Evan up and down. “Pack your bags, Major. Get ready to leave everything you know behind.”
Evan thought he’d left behind everything he knew the first time he stepped through the Stargate. The world had fallen out from beneath his feet with those first words Sheppard had spoken to him. He nodded numbly. “Yes, sir.” He started to turn away, then paused. “Sir, what’s your first name?”
Sheppard blinked, startled. “John. My name is John.”
“Like I said, sir, I look forward to working with you.” Truth was, Evan didn’t, not at all, because the universe hated him. The one person who was meant for him was the one person he could never, ever have, and something was wrong. Sheppard felt nothing for him. Evan couldn’t tell anyone about his soulmarks. He just had to keep being the poster boy.
“So you’re the new poster boy.”
Evan was jolted out of unconsciousness by someone speaking his soulmark.
He opened his eyes and cast a frantic look about, but there was no sign of Sheppard. Instead, Beckett was standing beside Evan’s bed. No, not Evan’s bed. A hospital cot. He was in the infirmary. Right. He’d been off-world and hit by some kind of stun weapon.
“Doc?” he asked.
“You have a soulmark,” Beckett said. “It’s not in your medical file.”
Evan put his hand to his hip. “Usually no one sees it.” But he was wearing a hospital gown instead of his uniform. Someone had changed his clothes. “How long was I out?”
“Soulmarks are supposed to be on medical files,” Beckett said. “Mated souls have unique medical characteristics that need to be closely monitored.”
“Not an answer to my question, Doc.” Evan kept his voice low, was glad Beckett was keeping his voice down as well. Had one of the nurses seen his soulmark?
“Eight hours,” Beckett said. “Which is surprising, because apparently Satedan blasters don’t usually have that effect on people.”
“Satedan?” Evan echoed blankly. “Did we recover him? Lieutenant Ford?”
“No. We picked up a new ally instead,” Beckett said. “From a planet called Sateda. He was surprised at how long you were unconscious. So tell me, Major, what are you doing out here in another galaxy away from your soulmate?”
“I’m not,” Evan said reflexively, because it was the truth.
Beckett frowned down at Evan’s medical chart. “Then you and your soulmate aren’t spending adequate bonding time with each other. Are you fighting? Dr. Heightmeyer can -”
Evan shook his head sharply. “I have no soulmate, Doc.”
Beckett’s gaze drifted down Evan’s body pointedly. Evan resisted the urge to tug the blankets up to his chin.
“I mean I don’t know who it is.”
Beckett tapped his clipboard. “Your vital signs say you do.”
Evan frowned. “I’m fine, Doc. I’ve felt fine since I arrived on Atlantis.”
“Then you met your soulmate here on Atlantis?”
Beckett sighed. He reached out and tugged the privacy curtain around them. “Och, lad, you know I maintain the strictest patient confidentiality. But for your own safety, I need to know.”
Evan picked at the edge of the blanket.
Beckett crossed his arms over his chest, expression immovable.
Evan sighed. “Colonel Sheppard.”
Beckett blinked. “Pardon?”
“Colonel Sheppard. The very first time we met, he said - well, you know what he said.”
“John? That can’t be right.” Beckett hung Evan’s chart at the foot of his cot and reached outside the curtain, rooted around, came back up with his data pad, which he tapped at rapidly. “I’d have noticed.” He scanned the screen, likely reviewing Sheppard’s medical records. His expression turned grim, and he set the data pad aside. “I’ll need to take a closer look at your mark, Major.”
Outside of his family, Evan had gone to great lengths to make sure that no one ever saw his mark for what it was, had learned how to use black henna to make it look like an ordinary tattoo, the kind many soldiers had. On Atlantis, now that everyone had private quarters, he’d abandoned the practice, because it was no longer necessary. Judging by the look on Beckett’s face, he wasn’t going to take no for an answer, so Evan drew aside the blanket and the hospital gown and tugged his boxer briefs down so Beckett could get a good look at his soulmark.
“It looks like John’s handwriting,” Beckett murmured. Evan knew that all too well, handling Sheppard’s files as often as he did. Beckett fished his pen light out of his pocket and shined it on Evan’s skin. A good doctor Beckett was. A good poker player he was not.
“What’s wrong?” Evan asked quietly.
“I don’t know if you ever noticed - it’s at a bit of an odd angle for you to get a good look at it,” Beckett said, “but the edges are, ever so faintly, green.”
“I never noticed,” Evan admitted. “But what does that mean?”
Beckett clicked off his penlight and tucked it back into his pocket. “It means it’s only half a bond, lad.”
Beckett was the same age as Evan, he was pretty sure. “In English, Doc.”
“It means you have a mark for him,” Beckett said, “but he doesn’t have one for you.”
Evan’s world dropped out from beneath him once more. “Does he have one for someone else?”
Beckett hesitated, and Evan knew all he needed to know.
“Of course. Patient confidentiality. Look, Doc, I’m awake now. Is there anything else wrong with me? Or can I go?” Evan tugged his clothes back into place.
“You can go,” Beckett said, stepping back. “But you’ll need to check in with me regularly. You have a very rare medical condition, and it needs to be monitored closely.”
“Of course.” Evan cast about, found that someone had left him a clean uniform. As soon as Beckett left, Evan changed into it, and then he fled to his quarters.
“What does it say?” Radim asked, running his hand over Evan’s flank.
Evan, naked and pinned spreadeagle on the medical table, snarled at him. “It says fuck you, asshole. Let me go.”
The four Genii soldiers holding him down made various protests. Radim drew his hand back to strike Evan, then paused, rethought it.
“If my gene therapy doesn’t work,” Radim said, “the person getting fucked will be you.”
Evan roared and thrashed. Radim backhanded him sharply, and Evan sank back, jaw throbbing. Then Radim nodded to the medic on hand, and the medic prepped a needle and a vial. The medic approached, expression grim, and reached out, put a hand on Evan’s arm. Evan would always thank Teal’c for what happened next. With one mighty heave, Evan dragged all his limbs inward. The soldiers fell on top of each other and the medic. In the ensuing madness, Evan squirmed free. He was off the table and out the door and down the hall before one of the soldiers tackled him.
This time six soldiers pinned him down, and the medic didn’t bother with a needle, used a scalpel to open an incision on the inside of Evan’s elbow, and he collected the blood that flowed while Evan cursed and fought.
Then Radim had the soldiers toss Evan back into the cell with the rest of this team, and then they tossed some clothes in after him.
“At least give me back my skivvies,” Evan called after them. Of course, there was no response. He sighed and tugged on the ugly clothes they’d given him.
“What’s the plan, sir?” Stevens asked.
Evan took a deep breath. “Give me a moment to think.” He scanned the doors of their cell for seemingly the thousandth time.
“Didn’t think you were the ink type, sir,” Reed said.
Evan spun around. “What?” His heart was pounding. Had they seen his soulmark? No. No one could know.
Reed gestured to Evan’s right arm. “You have ink.”
“Oh. Yeah. My sister’s a tattoo artist.” Evan smoothed a hand over his upper arm absently. “All right, who wants to play dead?”
“Play dead?” Walker echoed.
“We’re all natural gene carriers,” Evan said. “We’re a precious commodity to them. If one of us is sick, they’ll need to help us.”
“They’ll just come in here with guns,” Coughlin protested. “And they won’t need all of us.”
“If the gene therapy doesn’t pan out,” Evan said, “they’re looking to breed us. So they’ll need as many as they can get.”
“Breed us?” Stevens echoed.
Reed nodded. “Like Colonel Sheppard on that planet. With that brokedown Ancient city. The princess tried to, you know, make it with the Colonel.” He waggled his eyebrows meaningfully.
Evan said, “These people won’t be like princesses.” He wished he still had his watch. He felt okay, really. Beckett had been monitoring him very carefully, and he could be planets away from Sheppard for about a week straight before his body started shutting down. The symptoms would be subtle at first, could be attributed to being locked in a cell and maltreated. He’d go downhill quickly, though, after that. Too quickly for prisoner maltreatment. If Atlantis recovered his body, only Beckett would know why he died - assuming the Genii didn’t just put him down like a lamed horse once he stopped being useful.
Would it be better or worse, for Radim’s attempt at gene therapy to work?
Then the cell door banged open, and Genii soldiers shoved Sheppard into the cell.
The knot of tension that had been building behind Evan’s breastbone dissolved. “Sir, did you come to rescue us?”
“Till a few seconds ago I thought you were dead, so give me a minute to come up with a plan.”
“Anything my boys can do to help, let us know.” Evan had learned the art of measuring friendliness with respect. Sheppard wasn’t one for formality, but he still managed to maintain the chain of command.
“I will, Major.”
Evan would be at full strength for a little longer, then. He hated how much better he felt, just from Sheppard’s presence.
Should he have been able to sense when Sheppard arrived on the planet?
No. It was better for everyone involved if Evan didn't examine his connection to his CO too closely. Whatever he felt for Sheppard emotionally, he could say, with logic and reason, that Sheppard was a damn good soldier. Their chances of escaping alive had just increased a hundred-fold.
“So you’re the new poster boy,” Sheppard said.
Evan froze. He swallowed hard, smoothed his expression into one of calm puzzlement, and turned around. “Sir?”
“Ladon asked me about it.” Sheppard was leaning in the doorway of Evan’s office, hands tucked into his pockets.
“I don’t understand, sir.”
“He had a photograph of it. Couldn’t read it - gate translation system doesn’t work on written language. He wanted to know what was significant about it.”
“I don’t know why you’re asking me, sir.” Evan knew he was a damn good liar when the situation required it, but he was thrown off his game by Sheppard speaking his soulmark.
“Ladon said it was written on you.” Sheppard’s gaze was unreadable.
“I have ink, sir.” That wasn’t a lie.
“So you have it tattooed on you? You can tell me why it’s significant, then,” Sheppard said.
“I fail to see how it’s significant to our newfound relationship with the Genii.”
Sheppard stepped into the office, and the door hissed shut behind him. “I told him people on our planet often get tattoos of deep personal significance that don’t have wider cultural meaning,” he said.
“Did Doc Raberba help you with that?” Evan asked. Dr. Raberba was an anthropologist.
“And then I remembered.” Sheppard tilted his head, still gazing intently at Evan. “The very first thing I ever said to you, when we met.”
There went Evan’s world again, tilting on its axis. “Sir -”
“Why did you never tell me?”
“You’re my CO, sir. And you don’t like me. And you have a soulmark for someone else. For Dr. McKay.”
Sheppard raised his eyebrows, surprised. “How did you -?”
“I’m not blind,” Evan bit out.
“What makes you think I don’t like you?”
Evan cleared his throat. “General Landry said, Colonel, he’s all yours, and you said, Lucky me.”
Sheppard blinked. “That’s - uh. You’re pretty good at imitations.”
“I’ve heard your sarcasm a lot, sir.” Evan stepped back, wrapped his arms around himself. He wanted to disappear.
“It doesn’t matter,” Evan spat. “I’ve been your XO for over a year, and if you’d found fault in my service you’d have done something about it by now, sir. This is Atlantis. No one lasts long here who doesn’t want to or isn’t cut out for it.”
Sheppard sighed, shifted his weight. He looked uncomfortable. Well, good for him, because Evan felt miserable.
“Have you been okay?” Sheppard asked.
Evan curled his hands into fists. “I’m fine, sir.”
“Carson says - he says that mated souls have to spend time together or medical, uh, issues arise.”
Evan lifted his chin. “Carson talked to you about me?”
“No! Carson would never. He talked to me and Rodney about us.” Sheppard scratched the back of his neck like he did when he was nervous.
“Carson has been monitoring me very carefully,” Evan said evenly. “As I said, sir, I’m fine.”
“You could have told me,” Sheppard said softly.
Evan huffed. “What difference would it have made?”
Sheppard said nothing.
“Exactly, sir. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have requisition forms to sort.”
It made a difference when Sheppard went missing, kidnapped while off-planet.
“How the hell are we going to find him before that Wraith kills him?” Ronon demanded.
“Zelenka already checked the gate dialing history,” Evan said. “They took him through multiple gates.” Zelenka had reported his findings grimly. There weren't enough people on Atlantis to spare for an effective search. Sheppard didn't have a lot of time.
Rodney turned away from the screen that had displayed Kolya and a bound and gagged Sheppard moments earlier. He tapped his radio. “Carson, I have an idea. Use me to find John.”
Ronon frowned. “How does that work?”
Teyla put a hand on Rodney’s arm. “Is that safe?”
Weir pressed her lips into a thin line. Of course. She knew about Sheppard and Rodney.
Rodney turned to Chuck. “Get Zelenka back here. I'm going to speak to Carson.” Before Weir or anyone could question his right to make such an order, he spun on his heel and headed for the nearest transporter.
Chuck began dialing up the gate.
Evan ducked his head and turned away. “Doc?” It was Carson on the radio.
“This will have a better chance of working if you help,” Carson said.
Because of Evan’s bond to Sheppard. “What do you need, Doc?”
“I need you in the control chair.”
“Right away.” Evan summoned Major Dorsey to stand in for him at Control while he went to assist Carson in the control chair. After Sheppard and Carson, Evan was the strongest natural gene carrier. If Carson was working with Rodney in the infirmary, Evan was the logical choice to do any chair work.
He settled into the chair, felt Atlantis humming in the back of his mind.
“Major,” Carson said, “I'm going to route Rodney’s vital statistics to the chair. I’ve selected some medical records for Atlantis to analyze, readings from various times Rodney and John have been separated. Have Atlantis compare them and establish a search radius for John.”
“You got it, Doc.” Evan sat back and felt the chair initiate.
His radio clicked on again, and Carson said, softly, “Your readings are in there too. Have the chair monitor your status and add it to the calculations.”
“I’m on it.” Evan closed his eyes and took a deep breath, and then he reached inside himself, into that place where he felt a little knot of tension begin to twist and burn whenever Sheppard went off-world, that grew and grew when Sheppard was too far away for Evan’s good. He found that knot and he poked it, prodded it, breathed life into it. Where are you, John?
He never let himself think of Sheppard by his first name, ever, except at his lowest and most pathetic, when he was curling up to go to sleep at night and felt awfully alone. Only then did he dare utter, into the shadows, John. If he was feeling particularly bitter and masochistic, he’d reach out with his mind, with his soul, and find John. Feel him humming along happily, or drowsing contentedly in Rodney’s arms, or -
It’s a connection unlike any you’ve ever felt, Nan had told him. He owns your soul, and you own his, and together the two of you are as infinite as the stars in the sky.
Nan had never felt like this, wretched and torn in half, while Grandpa was alive.
Evan reached deeper into his connection with John. They had to find him. Had to. If John died, stars knew what it would do to Rodney. What it would do to Evan would tell everyone what Evan had fought so hard to hide.
“Got anything yet?” Rodney asked over the radio.
Evan’s eyes snapped open. A holographic display danced in the air above him. “I think so. Rodney, can you refine the algorithm Atlantis is using so we can narrow the search area?”
“Yes. Beckett, give me that datapad.”
Evan tested his link to Atlantis. “Sending the data now.”
It worked. Between Rodney’s genius and Evan’s bleeding raw into the astral plane, they found out where Kolya was holding John, and they sent a team of Marines to rescue him. Neither Evan nor Rodney were allowed to accompany the team on the off-chance that Kolya escaped and took John with him; they would need to track John again.
Sheppard arrived safely back in Atlantis, none the worse for wear despite having been fed on by a Wraith multiple times. Carson fussed over him and Rodney, and after they were done, Evan. Once Carson was assured that Evan wasn’t going to expire like a Victorian maiden, Evan was allowed to retreat to his quarters.
He’d just settled onto his bed in sweats and a t-shirt, sketchbook in hand, when his door chimed. He sighed, stood up, and answered the door.
It was Rodney.
“What’s up, Doc?” Evan smiled tiredly.
“I wanted to talk to you about how you helped me find John.” Rodney pushed past Evan and stepped into his quarters, the door hissing shut behind him.
“Why yes, Rodney, you're welcome to come in.” Evan rolled his eyes. “I just did what you told me to. Fed the data to Atlantis, and then fed it back to you once I got a vague location.”
“There’s more to it than that.” Rodney fixed Evan with a look.
“If there is, it’s over my head.”
“I reviewed the data used to triangulate John’s location, refined the algorithm a little more so the next time he gets kidnapped - and there will be a next time - we can find him faster.” Rodney cleared his throat and squared his shoulders.
Evan recognized the signs of someone gearing up for a fight. He shifted his stance ever so slightly, into a combat stance. Rodney wouldn’t recognize it for what it was. “That’s not a bad idea. But you’re a genius. You don’t need me to tell you that.” Had Rodney figured out Evan’s secret? Had he come to defend what was his?
“The data Carson gave you went above and beyond the readings he took from me. I’ve only been in the infirmary for measurements a handful of times because I’m incredibly busy even when I’m not offworld with John,” Rodney said.
Evan shrugged. “I used the data Carson sent me. I didn’t look at it - just gave it to Atlantis.” There was still aggression Rodney’s posture, but Evan would rather deescalate than have a fistfight with a man who, while strong, was nowhere near as well-trained as Evan at hand-to-hand combat.
“The readings included real-time data from someone else on the expedition,” Rodney said. “Someone else tapped into Atlantis at the same time. Someone else who’s connected to John like I am.”
“A person can only have one soulmate,” Evan said. “I don’t understand.” Better to play dumb than to insist Rodney was wrong, because he wasn’t.
Rodney searched Evan’s face for something he wasn’t finding. “I dug around the files more, and it sounds like this other person’s Greenlit.”
“I don’t know what that means.” Evan could guess, but he’d never heard the term before.
“It’s a rare condition,” Rodney said. “Where someone has a soulmark and a mate but that mate doesn’t match them back. The outlines of the soulmark are green. Basically, that person is trapped in a lifetime of unrequited love, if they ever find their soulmate at all.”
Evan feigned sympathy. “That sounds pretty miserable.” Pretty miserable didn’t begin to cover it, but Evan was a soldier, and if there was one thing he could handle, it was pain.
“You know everyone who serves on this expedition. You know everything that happens in this city,” Rodney said. “Who is it?”
“Beckett would know,” Evan said. “He’s the one who gave me the data.”
“He has patient confidentiality rules.” Rodney waved a dismissive hand.
“Does Sheppard know who it is?” Evan asked.
Rodney snorted. “Oh, please. John would tell me as soon as he knew if he had someone madly in love with him.”
Rodney didn’t know Sheppard as well as he thought. Evan was grateful for the almost fanatical way Sheppard guarded his privacy.
“Why do you want to know? If this person has this - condition, it’s not their fault,” Evan said.
“If John ever gets lost again, I want to know who it is so we can find for John sooner.” Rodney nodded decisively.
That actually wasn’t a bad reason, but Evan was the poster boy for Air Force Officers, was obedient and thorough and precise. “I’m sorry, Rodney,” Evan said. “I haven’t seen anyone exhibit any signs of attraction toward Colonel Sheppard beside the usual early rounds of hero worship from new expedition members.”
“If you see someone who’s Greenlit, will you tell me?” Rodney asked.
“If I knew of anyone else on this expedition being soulmarked for Colonel Sheppard, I’d tell you.” Evan smiled. It wasn’t even a lie, though his very carefully chosen words could be easily misread.
“Thanks, Lorne.” Rodney clapped him awkwardly on the soldier. “You’re a good soldier.” He left Evan’s quarters quickly after that.
As soon as the door had hissed shut once more, Evan thought it locked, and he curled up on his bed and closed his eyes and focused on shutting down the link that had been buzzing between him, Sheppard, and Atlantis since he’d climbed out of the chair. Only after the link was muted and numb was Evan able to fall asleep.
Evan stared at the mass of artefacts that Dr. Jackson had yet to catalogue that he’d inherited from Catherine Langford.
“You still haven’t sorted these out?” he asked.
Jackson stood beside him, hands on hips, expression weary. “Never had the chance. We got them and then - Vala. Ori. You know.”
“Only vaguely,” Evan admitted. He glanced at Jackson. “This is punishment for the time I didn’t call you about those mining artefacts on the Unas planet, isn’t it?”
Jackson cast him a sideways look. “No, Major,” he said softly. “I think you punish yourself over that enough as it is.”
Evan sucked in a breath. He’d forgotten just how damn insightful Jackson could be. So he rolled up his sleeves. “Well, right now the SGC has a spare logistics officer, and since Colonel Hamilton doesn’t want me under her feet any more than necessary, I am at your disposal, until such time as the Air Force decides what to do with me.” Until the Air Force figured out what to do with anyone displaced from Atlantis.
Jackson smiled briefly, a gleam of teeth, blue eyes brightening. “I appreciate it, Major. Really. The other archaeologists are so busy analyzing and translating. And Catherine was my mentor, when I first started this program. This is - this is my chance to really say goodbye.”
From what Evan knew of Jackson’s childhood, he’d rarely had the chance to say goodbye to those he’d loved and lost.
“So, are you using paper or going digital?” Evan asked.
Jackson held up a clipboard. “I’m an archaeologist. We like our things old.”
“Fair enough.” Evan fished in his pocket for a pen, and a wave of dizziness swept over him. He staggered, caught himself against the wall. Dammit. He knew that feeling. It was when Sheppard’s team gated to a planet on the opposite side of the galaxy. Carson usually gave him a warning of when the team was going to depart, so Evan could be sitting down, be prepared.
Jackson was at his side in an instant. “Major, are you all right?”
Evan nodded. “Yeah, just - low blood sugar, I guess.”
Jackson narrowed his eyes. “I saw you in the mess hall having lunch.”
“Yeah, but - no breakfast. Got out of bed late. I -” All the air was sucked out of Evan’s lungs like he’d been punched in the gut. He collapsed against the wall, scrabbled at it for purchase, but gravity won, dragged him down to the floor.
Jackson lunged for the phone on the wall. “Medical to archives. Major Lorne just collapsed.” Then he crouched beside Evan, shaking his shoulders. “Major? Lorne! What’s going on?”
Evan couldn’t talk, couldn’t breathe. The next few minutes were a dizzying blur of action, of medical staff in scrubs plunking Evan on a gurney and rushing him to the infirmary, more medics transferring him to a cot, no-nonsense nurses wrangling him out of his uniform and into a hospital gown, Dr. Lam shining a penlight into his eyes.
And then General Landry was there, SFs in his wake.
“I need to speak to Major Lorne immediately.”
“Not now,” Lam said. “He’s going into systemic shock.”
Landry shouldered his way past several nurses, caught Evan by the arm. “Major, did you know what Sheppard was planning?”
Planning? Evan shook his head, struggling to breathe.
“General!” Lam snapped.
Landry wheeled around to glare at her. “He could be faking as a distraction so I don’t send a team of Marines after Sheppard and the rest of them.”
“Get him on oxygen,” Lam said to one of the nurses. She flipped through Evan’s file, and her face went pale. “He’s not faking. He needs treatment immediately, and I need you out of the way so I can stop his body from shutting down completely.”
“How do you know he’s not faking?” Landry demanded.
“Because he’s Greenlit for Colonel Sheppard and Sheppard’s now in an entirely different galaxy.”
Landry’s eyes went wide, and he stepped back. “What?”
“That kind of distance can be managed and even tolerated with careful preparation,” Lam said. “Obviously Major Lorne had no warning, or he wouldn’t be in this position.”
Landry narrowed his eyes again. “Or he willingly agreed to suffer this because he’s Greenlit for Sheppard, would do anything for him, and is an additional distraction to buy Sheppard time.”
Jackson said, “General, I was with Major Lorne when he collapsed. He seemed to think he was suffering from low blood sugar for having missed breakfast this morning.”
One of the nurses fixed Evan with an oxygen mask, and the constant near-panic that had been building in him with every failed breath started to ease.
“When he’s stable, I want to talk to him,” Landry said finally. He ordered the SFs to stand guard on Evan, then spun on his heel and strode out of the infirmary.
Evan closed his eyes and sank back, trying to get his body to settle, but even though he was getting the oxygen he needed, that knot of tension behind his breastbone was coiled so tightly he was afraid it - he - was going to fly apart at the slightest pressure. There was a flurry of tests and machines hooked up to him, and eventually Lam switched him to a cannula so he could answer questions.
“How long have you been Greenlit for Sheppard?”
“Since the day I was assigned as his XO.”
“You never reported your soulmark.” Lam had dismissed everyone but essential personnel and the two SFs, and she’d pulled the privacy curtain around them. “I see from your record that Dr. Beckett didn’t register it until several months into your first year on Atlantis.”
Evan shrugged one shoulder. “It never seemed important, and then when I realized I was marked for Sheppard but he didn’t like me, it didn’t seem like a big deal. I mean, if he didn’t like me, we weren’t really soulmates, and there’s no soulmate exception to chain of command. I’d have been removed from Atlantis -”
“And away from Sheppard.” Lam sighed. “Does Sheppard know?”
“He found out. I didn’t tell him.”
“I’m not going to report you for a regs violation,” Lam said quietly. “I just need to know about the severity of your condition.”
“Carson monitored me pretty closely, took readings once a week and every time Sheppard was off-world, right before and after I was off-world at the same time as Sheppard. He wanted to study the effects of gate travel and The Gene on a Greenlit bond.” Evan stared down at his hands. “He always warned me, here, when Sheppard was going off-world. So I could be sitting down, having a snack, so this wouldn’t happen.”
“Did you spend much time with Sheppard? On Atlantis?”
“No, ma’am. He was commander, I was XO. My duties were complement to his, so we were rarely in the same place at the same time unless a situation required the entire senior staff. We couldn’t be on libo at the same time either, so -”
“So you’ve basically been bond-starving for two and a half years,” Lam said flatly. “Sheppard knew about your bond, and he did this anyway. Took off for Atlantis on a hare-brained scheme to rescue the city.”
Evan frowned. “Rescue the city?”
“Didn’t you hear?”
On Atlantis, Evan was used to hearing everything, knowing everything. Back on Earth, it had been too damn hard to try to reestablish his connections, to get back into the know, and it had been far too easy to put his head down and work hard at the few things he was assigned and draw till he passed out every night.
Lam explained the situation to him, and he said, “It makes perfect sense. Sheppard knows the city like the back of his hand. If anyone could rescue Woolsey and General O’Neill, it’d be him. He’d probably stop off and pick up Ronon and Teyla first, so -”
“Is that Major Lorne talking about his respect for his commander’s field skills, or Evan talking about his deep-seated belief in John? Because him leaving like that almost killed you.” Lam fixed him with an unimpressed look.
“Colonel Sheppard fended off an entire Genii invasion in the first year of the Expedition,” Evan said. “He’s a damn good soldier, ma’am.”
“Well, you’re stuck here till he gets back.”
“Shall I tell General Landry you’re ready to talk to him?” Lam asked.
Lam went to pull the curtain aside, and Evan said, “What if he doesn’t come back?”
“I have a crash cart on standby.” Lam’s expression was grim, and she walked away.
“So you’re Greenlit for John Sheppard?” Landry asked.
Evan, sitting up on his hospital cot, desperately wished he was somewhere else. “Yes, sir.”
“Since the day you summoned me to your office with news about my posting to Atlantis.”
“You didn’t ask for a different posting to accommodate your bond.”
“I’m Greenlit, sir. He isn’t bonded to me, I’m bonded to him. And he doesn’t like me. There was never any point.”
Landry studied Evan carefully. “When did he find out?”
“A few months before the Ancients returned to Atlantis.”
“You put yourself and your base in danger,” Landry said.
“I didn’t realize I was Greenlit, sir. Not until Carson explained it to me. But once he understood what was going on, I made sure to monitor my health closely, and Carson did the same. My being Greenlit came in handy, sir, when Colonel Sheppard was kidnapped by rogue Genii.”
Landry raised his eyebrows. “Really?”
“The fact that I’m not comatose means Colonel Sheppard is still live and kicking, sir.”
“That’s good to know. So, Beckett was making sure you’re okay?”
“I find that hard to believe, because he went with Sheppard, Weir, and McKay to Atlantis.”
Evan rubbed his chest ruefully. “That explains why Carson didn’t give me the usual warning, that Sheppard was going off-world. I guess I’ll have to make sure someone feeds his turtles.”
“Beckett allowed Sheppard to go along with his crazy plan, knowing what it would do to you.” Landry fixed him with a grim look.
“From the sound of things, the plan was thrown together pretty hastily. I suspect Beckett’s focus was elsewhere. Besides, the SGC offers the best medical care in the world.” Evan shrugged.
Landry stared at him. “Have you no sense of self-preservation, Major?”
“Lots, sir. It’s why I told no one about my soulmark, or that I’d met my soulmate. Because there are parts of me that belong to no one, not even the United States Air Force, and I will defend them to my dying breath.”
“Unless Sheppard’s as good a soldier as the stories say he is, your dying breath is right around the corner.” Landry shook his head. “I believe you, though. You had no idea what Sheppard was planning.”
Landry, Evan realized, had no idea about Sheppard and McKay.
“Rest, son.” Landry patted Evan’s shoulder gently, the gesture startling him, and then stood up, left the infirmary.
Evan had just about drifted off to sleep when Jackson re-appeared by his bedside. “How are you feeling, Major?”
“Kinda like someone tried to rip my soul in half, but otherwise fine, Doc.” Evan smiled. “Thanks for being so quick to get the med teams to me.”
Jackson nodded. “Of course. Listen, about you being Greenlit for Sheppard - I won’t tell anyone.”
“But you should ask Dr. Lam about her experimental treatment for strained or broken bonds.”
Evan raised his eyebrows. “Treatment?”
Jackson smoothed a hand over his collarbone absently. “I found my soulmate the first time I stepped through a Stargate. And then she was taken by the Goa’uld, and then she died. Janet worked out a treatment early on, and Lam’s refined it. It might not be the same as for the Greenlit, but I bet it would help.”
Evan reached out and curled his fingers through Jackson’s tentatively. “Thank you, Doc.”
“It’ll be all right, Major.”
“Then Daniel, please.”
They sat there in silence, fingers curled together, until Lam came to them with the news. Sheppard and his team had succeeded. Time to get the band back together.
Evan was on his way to Landry’s office to deliver a report on the latest supply figures for the Alpha Site when he almost ran into an officer in dress blues. He pulled up short. It was Sheppard, back from his heroic rescue of Atlantis.
“Major Lorne,” Sheppard said.
Evan dipped his chin respectfully. “Sir.”
“I guess you heard the good news.”
“I have. Well done, sir.”
“Are your bags packed?” Sheppard asked. “We’re getting the band back together. Pretty much everyone we need is available to ship out ASAP.”
Evan straightened up. “I’ve requested re-assignment, sir. Earthside. There’s still a need for gene carriers at the SGC for research, and General Landry has offered me command of a gate team.”
Sheppard raised his eyebrows. “Can you do that?”
Evan tilted his head. “I wasn’t aware there were restrictions on my ability to ask for reassignment, sir. And I did command a gate team on Atlantis.”
Sheppard took a breath, and then he tugged Evan aside, into an empty office, and closed the door. “I heard about what happened to you. When we took that jumper to Atlantis.”
“Everyone on the medical staff was kind and professional during my convalescence,” Evan said.
Sheppard squinted at him. “Have you always been this polite? I remember thinking you were really good at sarcasm.”
“I made sure Dr. Beckett’s turtles were fed,” Evan added.
“From what I heard, it was pretty bad.” Sheppard looked Evan up and down. “Are you sure you want reassignment?”
“I wouldn’t have asked for it if I weren’t sure.” Evan brandished the file he was holding. “If you don’t mind, sir, I need to get this to General Landry.”
Sheppard growled, frustrated. “Lorne.”
“Why do you act like you don’t feel anything for me?”
“Why didn’t you tell McKay about me?”
That brought Sheppard up short. “How do you know?”
“After you were kidnapped by Kolya, McKay asked me if I knew who on the expedition was Greenlit for you. I asked him if you knew, and he told me that you’d have told him if you knew. He wants to know who’s Greenlit for you so you can be found more quickly if you’re ever kidnapped again.”
“Found more quickly?” Sheppard asked.
“Don’t worry,” Evan said. “I spoke to Zelenka and Carson. They’re both confident that McKay refined the algorithm sufficiently that you can be found quickly with just McKay on hand.” He reached for the door. “General Landry’s waiting for this report, sir. I have to go.”
“You didn’t answer my question,” Sheppard said quietly.
“You asked a lot of questions, sir.”
“Why do you act like you don’t feel anything for me?”
Evan let his hand fall to his side. He caught Sheppard’s gaze, held it. “You like your coffee black and burning hot, except when you stayed up too late the night before, and then you take it with three sugars. Your birthday is June 14. You graduated from Test Pilot School and can pilot the Apache, Osprey V-22, Blackhawk, Cobra, F-16, and F-302. You can only do paperwork for fifty minutes straight before you need a fifteen minute break. Your favorite golf spot is the balcony above Pier Twelve on the twenty-third floor. You have ten solid favorite movies and ten solid favorite Johnny Cash songs, but after that the list is fluid. You like to keep your pens right next to your mouse on the desk so you can write, throw, or stab at a moment’s notice. You switched from an M9 to a P-14. You run five miles every morning without breaking a sweat. Four miles means you’re feeling lazy; three miles means you’re fighting off a cold. You prefer brownies over jello but will always give McKay your brownie if it’s the last day of brownies before the next Daedalus shipment. You named your favorite jumper Christine after the Stephen King novel and you’re only a quarter of the way through War and Peace. You pretend not to listen to half of what McKay says, but you hear it all. You -”
“I get it, Lorne. Stop. You’ve made your point.”
“Am I dismissed, sir?”
Sheppard bowed his head. “Go, Major.”
“Thank you, sir.” Evan ducked neatly around him and went to knock on Landry’s door.
“Come in,” Landry said.
Evan stepped into the room, pulled the door closed behind him. “Sir.”
“What have you got for me, Major?”
“Supply numbers from the Alpha Site, sir. They’re coming in within acceptable limits. The supply chains shouldn’t fluctuate much from here on out.” He placed the file on Landry’s desk.
Landry flipped open the file, scanned the first page. “Thank you, Major. Anything else?”
“I’d like to make a request if I may, sir.”
“You can make it. I may not grant it.”
“I’m requesting permanent assignment to Earth, sir.”
Landry raised his eyebrows. “You don’t want to go back to Atlantis?”
“Major Dorsey and Major Teldy would both make fine XOs, sir.”
“Is it safe for you not to go to Atlantis?” Landry actually looked concerned.
“Dr. Lam’s treatment has been working exceptionally well, sir.” Evan smiled slightly, to emphasize his point.
“Have you checked in with Dr. Beckett?”
“No, sir, but Dr. Lam has been my primary care physician since my return to Earth.”
Landry sat back in his chair, gaze skeptical. “But Dr. Beckett’s been the one managing your condition.”
“Dr. Beckett hasn’t informed me of any concerns about the treatment, sir.” Evan kept his tone calm and even. “Your offer of command of a gate team hasn’t been rescinded, has it?”
“No, Major. It hasn’t. Are you sure this is what you want?”
“All right. I’ll let you know which team will be yours, Major.”
“Thank you, sir.”
Landry smiled. “Good hunting, son. You’re dismissed.”
Evan inclined his head politely, then left Landry’s office. He could call his mother, let her know he’d be able to visit more often now that he had a new posting. She’d be pleased.
“So you’re the new poster boy.”
Evan was jolted out of his recon of the hallway outside the cell. “Captain Hailey?”
She and Satterfield were huddled in the corner of the cell together for warmth. Elliot was sitting with his back pressed against Satterfield’s, the most modesty they could afford without freezing to death.
“Sorry, sir. I was just - there’s nothing to do in here. It’s boring,” Hailey said. “So I was reading.”
“Boring?” Elliot echoed. “We’re naked in an alien cell about to freeze to death and you’re bored?”
“That’s an interesting tattoo,” Satterfield offered through chattering teeth. She edged closer to Hailey. “How are you not cold, sir?”
“Obviously I’m very cold,” Evan said, gesturing downward vaguely, and Elliot tried to swallow down a laugh, so it sounded like he was snorting.
“You don’t seem nearly as embarrassed as us,” Hailey ventured.
“I was raised on a hippie commune in California. In the summer, as long as we weren’t visible from the road, clothing was optional. Also, this isn’t nearly the first time I’ve been stuck naked in a cell with my teammates. Granted, last time my teammates were all male Marines, and also the captors eventually gave us ugly clothes to wear, and it wasn’t as cold, but there you go.” Evan craned his neck to peer out of the tiny window in their cell and, not for the first time, cursed his height.
“Are your other tattoos legible?” Elliot asked. “Because now I’m bored too.”
“No, they’re not,” Evan said. “Elliot, get over here. I’m going to hoist you up. Look for something, anything we can use to jimmy this door.”
Elliot took a deep breath, then peeled himself away from Satterfield’s back. His teeth started chattering, and he edged his way across the cell, careful to keep his hips angled away from his teammates’ gazes. Satterfield averted her eyes politely, but Hailey rolled her eyes.
“Nothing I’ve never seen before, Elliot.”
“This isn’t something I’d ever planned on doing in the line of duty,” Elliot grumbled.
Evan stepped back, braced himself, laced his fingers together. “You ready?”
Elliot nodded. “Yes, sir.”
“All right. Up you go.” Evan crouched down a little lower, got his hands beneath one of Elliot’s feet, then heaved upward.
Elliot caught the bars in the window and hung on, thrust his face between them. “Hallway’s empty, sir.”
“How empty is empty, Lieutenant?”
“No useful tools for unlocking a door. At least, none that I can reach.”
Evan frowned. “What do you see that you can’t reach?”
“I - fire in the hole!” Elliot flung himself backward, knocking Evan down.
An explosion rocked the entire hallway.
Evan’s ears were still ringing when the cell door swung open. He staggered to his feet and into a fighting stance, placing himself between the intruders and his team.
“Major!” Colonel Carter cried, recoiling sharply.
“What’s wrong?” Daniel asked, pushing past her. “Oh. Whoa! Okay.” Immediately he unbuckled his tac vest, started unbuttoning his BDU shirt. He tossed it to Evan, who handed it to Hailey. Carter followed suit and, when they arrived, Mitchell and Teal’c did as well.
Evan, barefoot and wearing nothing but Teal’c’s mis-buttoned BDU shirt, armed with Teal’c’s M9, led his team out of the enemy stronghold and to the gate.
Landry took one look at them and ordered them to the locker rooms before their debrief and, as a kindness, ordered all personnel to clear the hallways for the next twenty minutes.
Evan and Elliot had to wait to change, because the locker room was the women’s locker room until the last woman was finished, but then Evan was in a clean uniform much faster than Elliot. He swung by the gate room to tell Walter to change SG-17’s IDC, now that their GDO was in enemy hands, and then he headed for Landry’s office to get the debrief started.
Daniel caught up to him halfway there. “You all right?” he asked in a low voice. Like Evan, he was very particular about anyone seeing his soulmark, let alone letting anyone know he had one. Since his was in Abydonian, he’d been able to get away better with people thinking it was a funky archaeologist tattoo, attributed it to his parents having been Egyptologists.
“I’m fine, thanks,” Evan said. “We weren’t in there long, and only Hailey really noticed it. The others assumed it was a tattoo, so - thanks for the heroic rescue and letting us borrow your clothes. That ever happen to you?”
“I always de-ascend naked,” Daniel said. “Apparently the Ascended Ancients don’t believe in clothing.”
“And yet they always appear to us in clothing,” Evan pointed out.
Daniel’s mouth twisted wryly. “Maybe they just don’t believe in me in clothing.”
“Maybe they don’t believe in de-ascending in clothing? Wouldn’t want to put a halt to the fashion industry forever, if everyone knew how to dress their way to enlightenment,” Evan said. “That’s interference on our plane of existence.”
Daniel laughed. “So true. Glad we found you all in one piece, Major.”
“Like I said, thanks for the heroic rescue. Now I get to explain to General Landry why one of his gate teams got caught and stripped nude.”
“Gate Teams Gone Wild,” Daniel murmured, and Evan swallowed down a laugh.
“Thanks for that image.”
“Welcome. I’d better go start writing my report while Mitchell leads our debrief.” Daniel jerked a thumb in the direction of his office. “Falafel and Seven Samurai at my place tonight?”
Evan smiled. “Sure.” He waved and headed for Landry’s office. Permanent assignment to Earth really wasn’t bad. Really.
He had to paused outside of Landry’s office, rub at his sternum to fend off the ache that built there at the end of the twenty-four hours that his Greenlit treatment lasted. Elliot and the rest of his team thought he had heartburn, called him old man. Evan let their jibes slide.
He straightened up, lifted his chin, and knocked. Every time he did a debrief with Landry, he had to convince him that his permanent posting on Earth really was a good idea.
Evan dreamed, sometimes, of being torn in half, of waking up and knowing with sickening dread that Sheppard was lost and gone and then pain set in, followed by the shock. He dreamed of McKay gating back to the SGC with the report that Sheppard had disappeared one day, and no one could find him. He dreamed of lying in the infirmary and McKay taking up the cot beside him, protesting that he was sure he knew what had happened to Sheppard, something about solar flares and wormholes, while Lam got him started on the broken bond treatment that Evan knew all too well. He dreamed of helping McKay stage an infirmary break so he could find out what happened to Sheppard, bring him home. And he dreamed of dying.
Evan came awake at the shrill ringing of his cell phone. He’d fallen asleep slumped over his drafting desk again, probably had charcoal all over his face. He groaned and groped for his phone. The SGC was calling. It was three in the morning.
“Lorne,” he said muzzily.
“Report to General Landry,” Walter said. Did he ever sleep?
“Be right there.”
Evan didn’t bother to shower, just scrubbed his face, put on fresh deodorant and a clean uniform, ran a wet comb through his hair, and headed for his car.
When he stepped into Landry’s office, Zelenka was there. Evan blinked.
“Radek? What are you doing here?”
Landry said, “They need you on Atlantis, Major.”
Evan lifted a hand to his chest. He hadn’t felt a thing. Of course he hadn’t. He always took his dose right before bed so he could actually sleep. What kept him awake these days was his own mind. “Sir?”
Zelenka said, “Sheppard has been kidnapped.”
Evan’s heart started to thump. “McKay’s algorithm -”
“Is useless when McKay was kidnapped with him. I was the one who helped Beckett mask your data for McKay’s algorithm. I know what you can do. We need you.”
And Evan realized. Zelenka had gated all the way back to Earth from Atlantis. Had consumed that much power to get Evan. The situation had to have been dire, for Woolsey to have allowed that.
“All right,” Evan said. “Let’s go.”
“Thank you,” Zelenka said.
“Good hunting, son,” Landry said.
“Thank you, sir.”
Evan’s return to Atlantis didn’t go how he’d imagined it. He’d imagined it a dozen different ways, with everything from a welcoming crowd in the gate room to silence and the cold shoulder, for having abandoned them. Zelenka especially had been vocal in his disappointment that Evan was being posted permanently to Earth, because who was going to protect him from McKay now?
When Evan and Zelenka arrived in the gate room, Atlantis seemed to be running as normal, but Evan recognized the tension in the air, how everyone was moving quickly and quietly, how there were no casual greetings and chatter. All was not well in the City.
Woolsey greeted Evan perfunctorily, and Zelenka whisked Evan into the nearest transporter to the Chair Room. Keller was already waiting there, looking anxious.
“She is dating Ronon,” Zelenka said under his breath, and Evan nodded. He remembered Keller vaguely. She’d always been nice enough to him when Carson couldn’t tend to him personally.
“We’ve already programmed the algorithm into the mainframe,” Zelenka said. “Doctor Keller has included the latest measurements she’s taken from Rodney. All that’s left is -”
Evan climbed into the chair. Atlantis had been whispering in the back of his head as soon as he stepped into the gate room, ten times louder than the Ancient tech Evan sometimes initiated for Bill Lee at the lab back on Earth. When the chair initiated, Evan felt his entire body humming with Atlantis’s song.
Evan. Welcome back.
He’d been gone long enough that she no longer said Welcome home.
Hello, Atlantis. Where is John? Evan reached into himself for the connection, but it was inaccessible. Numb. Wrapped in cotton. He plucked at it desperately, but to no avail. And he realized. “Keller, I need a blood transfusion.”
Keller blinked at him. “What?”
“I’m on Lam and Frasier’s broken bond treatment,” Evan said. “It dulls the effects of a bond. I took the dose right before bed, and it’s about four a.m. back on Earth. A blood transfusion should clean out most of it.”
Keller nodded frantically, radioed for a med team. “What’s your blood type?”
Evan smiled and said, “O negative.”
“Of course it is.”
“You can keep what you take from me, if you like.” Evan smiled crookedly, and Keller relaxed a fraction. Evan remembered she’d always been a bit tense, a bit anxious.
As the blood transfusion ran, Evan could feel it, the ache in his chest blossoming, like a flower unfurling its petals under the sun. He closed his eyes and lost himself in the sensation, what he hadn’t been allowed to feel for two years on Earth, because it would have slowly killed him. Around him, Zelenka and Keller and the medical team conversed quickly and quietly. Atlantis ran her calculations, and Evan felt it, the moment she found John.
He opened his eyes. A sparkling hologram of the galaxy danced in the air above him. “There.”
“I need a gate address,” Zelenka said.
Atlantis displayed it obligingly.
Zelenka tapped his radio. “Major Teldy, we have a location.” He listened to whatever Teldy said, then raised his gaze to Evan’s. “Would you like to go with them?”
Evan shook his head. “No. It’s probably best if I stay here. Like last time.”
Zelenka nodded, tapped his radio again. “I’ve sent the coordinates to Chuck and Amelia. Good luck, Major.”
“We’re done with the transfusion,” Keller said. Evan sat still while her team took down the transfusion equipment and she bandaged him up.
“Anything else, Doc?” Evan looked at Keller and Zelenka both.
“Speak to Major Dorsey,” Zelenka said, “about where you will stay until The Daedalus arrives.”
Evan nodded. “Of course.” He headed for the door.
“And go get a radio from Chuck,” Zelenka hollered after him.
Evan was dozing on the bed in the room Dorsey had assigned to him - Dorsey hadn’t blinked twice at Evan’s presence, and Evan had always liked how unflappable Dorsey was - when his radio crackled to life.
“They’re back,” Chuck said softly. “They made it back.”
A city-wide announcement about such things had never been protocol, but it was part of how Atlantis worked. Atlantis wasn’t just a posting, it was a home, a family. Evan had walked away from it willingly. But he hadn’t done so easily. He lay there, in the darkness, and felt the ache in his chest ease.
And finally, he drifted off to sleep.
“So you’re the new poster boy.”
Evan was standing in the chow line getting breakfast when he heard the voice. He spun around and nearly dropped his tray. “Carson?”
“Aye, lad. In the flesh. Well, the cloned flesh.”
Evan stared at him. “They told me you were dead. They never told me -” He set his tray on the nearest table and dragged Carson into a hug.
Carson hugged him back. “Good to see you too, Major.”
“If you’re still alive, why aren’t you the CMO?” Evan pulled back, picked up his tray. He followed Carson over to an unoccupied table and sank into one of the chairs.
“It’s a long story. Short version is, they didn’t find my clone until long after Jennifer was made CMO, and I’m doing work offworld mostly, on the Hoffan virus. I come back to restock and share my findings, but I’m not quite an expedition member anymore,” Carson said. “What are you doing back here? I’d heard from Captain Stevens that you’re in command of SG-17.”
Evan poured some honey into his Pegasus-imitation oatmeal. “Sheppard’s entire team was kidnapped. Zelenka needed my help.”
“That was generous of you,” Carson said.
“I didn’t leave Atlantis because I hated the expedition or the people on it,” Evan said. “I figured if Zelenka gated directly to Earth, it was pretty urgent. I couldn’t let him pay such a heavy price and come back empty-handed.”
“I heard about the Fraiser-Lam treatment. How’s it working?”
“Like I never met Sheppard,” Evan said.
Carson looked like he couldn’t decide whether to smile or cry. “Listen, Major, about what happened, when we took back Atlantis -”
“You couldn’t have known.” Evan smiled. “No one could have known. It’s not like any other Greenlit in history has ever been has been three million light years away from their soulmate before, right?”
“I still should have -”
“I’m fine, Doc. Really. Now, catch me up on the gossip on Atlantis! It was three a.m. mountain standard time when I was summoned to the Mountain, and I’d just come off a mission on a planet with a thirty-two hour day, so once they isolated AR-1’s location I sacked out. Haven’t had a chance to catch up with anyone.” Evan dug into his oatmeal with gusto - he was hungry.
“Teyla had a baby,” Carson said.
Evan choked. “What?”
Evan had missed a lot while back on Earth. He’d exchanged emails with Stevens, Walker, Coughlin, and Reed frequently enough through the weekly databursts, but they’d mostly stuck to updates in their personal lives and mission stories, nothing about the wider Atlantis community. So he listened, and he ate, and he tried to ignore the persistent fluttering behind his breastbone. He’d been numbing the connection with drugs for so long that he’d almost forgotten how to shut it down himself.
After breakfast, Evan walked with Carson to the infirmary, where he was planning on checking in with Dr. Aoi about his progress against the Hoffan virus. Once Carson was busy with Dr. Aoi, Evan decided to check in with Major Teldy and see if there was anything she wanted him to do. He was outside the chain of command, having come to Atlantis not as a soldier but as a useful tool, but it would be at least three more weeks till The Daedalus arrived, and Evan couldn’t be idle that long. He’d brought nothing with him besides the clothes on his back, and he doubted the Archivist had sufficient art supplies to keep him busy, so he figured he’d make himself useful.
He was almost to the transporter when it occurred to him that Teldy might have moved offices. He went to tap his radio and ask for coordinates to her position when a hand came down on his shoulder, spun him around.
Evan fell into a combat stance, hands raised. But it was McKay.
“Jeez, Doc. When did you become a ninja?”
“It was you?” McKay stared at him.
Evan relaxed. “Nice to see you too, Doc.”
“You were the one who helped get John back that one time?”
Evan cursed his own stupidity. He should have known that McKay would put two and two together, the team’s miraculous recovery and Evan’s unscheduled presence on Atlantis. “Glad you’re all right, Doc. I need to go check in Major Teldy, so -”
“You said you’d tell me if you figured out who was Greenlit for John.” McKay jabbed an accusing finger at him.
Evan sighed. “You’ve always been able to find Sheppard when you need to, right? Without me around?”
“Why didn’t you tell me?” McKay demanded.
Evan straightened up. “Why was it any of your business?”
“Because you’re in love with my soulmate!”
Evan reached out, initiated the door lock on the nearest door, found an unoccupied room, and stepped into it. McKay followed him.
“So what?” Evan asked.
“So, you’re in love with him!” McKay waved his hands wildly.
Evan crossed his arms over his chest. “Why is that such a big deal?”
“Because he’s my soulmate!”
“Did my being Greenlit for him ever affect your relationship?” Evan asked.
“Did I ever make a pass at Sheppard? Did I ever interfere with your time together?”
McKay deflated a little bit. “Actually...no.”
“Did I come help Atlantis find him when you needed it?”
McKay sighed. “Okay, fine, yes.”
“Then what the hell does it matter that I’m Greenlit for a man who doesn’t even like me?”
McKay blinked at him. “What makes you think John doesn’t like you?”
“We’re not friends, McKay. We’ve never been friends. Even before he found out I was Greenlit for him, he only ever talked to me in the context of duty. He talked to my Marines more than he talked to me. I get it, I really do. He’d just come off of a year of being interim commander in an alien galaxy after being cut off from Earth, you all had just fended off a siege, and the SGC foisted me on him, told him that he’d never get his preferred 2IC Ford back. I wasn’t what he’d have chosen. He looked at me and the fact that my COs liked me and figured I was the poster boy for the obedient Air Force officer, and he didn’t like me.” Evan shook his head. “I’m sorry. You don’t need to hear any of this. It had nothing to do with you and never has. I should report to Major Teldy.” He swiped his hand at the lock.
McKay swallowed hard. “John knows you’re Greenlit for him?”
“How do you know?”
Evan closed the door again. “He confronted me about it. After Kolya kidnapped him.”
“How did he figure out the additional data was from you?” McKay frowned. “I couldn’t even figure that out.”
“Ladon Radim told him.”
McKay said, “No one in Pegasus has soulmarks or knows how they work.”
“When the Genii kidnapped my team the year before, they did medical exams on us, took our blood to attempt their own gene therapy,” Evan said. “Radim saw my soulmark, had one of his medical staff record it. He couldn’t read it, so he asked Sheppard about its significance. Sheppard said he remembered the first thing he ever said to me. I suspect he recognized his own handwriting.”
McKay’s eyes narrowed. “So when I confronted you, and you asked me if John knew who was Greenlit for him, you knew he knew about you?”
“I was curious as to whether he’d told you, yes.” Evan shrugged as nonchalantly as he could manage.
“Then all this time, he knew. That you were in love with him.”
Evan shook his head. “He doesn’t really understand what it means to be Greenlit. He didn’t really believe I’m in love with him. By the time he did believe, well, you were back on Atlantis, and I was stationed on Earth.”
McKay was silent for a long moment, studying Evan. Evan had endured worse scrutiny, but not very many times, and he had to force himself to hold still and be calm.
“Why did you stay on Earth? How could you stay on Earth?”
“There’s medicine for that kind of thing,” Evan said. “Like the kind they give to the widowed half of a bond. As for the why, how would you feel if you saw John kiss another man?”
“Imagine feeling that every day.”
“No, I don’t think you really do.”
McKay stepped back, initiated the door lock. “How long will you be on Atlantis?”
“Till The Daedalus comes.”
“Thanks for helping with the rescue, Major.” McKay walked away.
Evan let the door slide closed and forced himself to take several deep breaths. Then he tapped his radio. “Lorne for Control. Where’s Major Teldy?”
Evan spent his three weeks in Atlantis helping Major Dorsey with supply logistics and babysitting Torren. Of the tasks, he preferred the latter. He managed to work in one movie night with his old team. He talked to Carson whenever he was back on the planet. He trained with Ronon a little bit and couldn’t decide if it was better or worse than training with Teal’c. He also got really, really good at dodging Sheppard and McKay, which was quite a feat when he was babysitting their teammate’s son. Zelenka helped out quite a bit on that score and was even kind enough to give Evan a heads up on McKay’s mood if encountering McKay was unavoidable.
Evan had cleaned his room and packed up his clothes hours before The Daedalus was scheduled to arrive, so he decided to spend the rest of his time with Torren and Atlantis. He had Torren in the Athosian baby sling Teyla used, and he was wandering the halls of Atlantis, the balconies with the best views, his old running routes. While he walked, he told Torren about Earth - and he wondered if it would mess up Torren’s language development, having the gate translation system interfering with him learning Athosian - and sang him songs, let him look out over the balconies, told him stories about his time on Atlantis.
The Daedalus was still about an hour out when his radio crackled to life.
“Teyla for Lorne.”
“Go for Lorne.”
“It is almost Torren’s bedtime.”
“Be back in a jiffy.” Evan unfastened the sling so he could hold Torren, bounced him as he walked. “Ready for sleepy time, little buddy? I don’t know if I’m ever going to see you again. You probably won’t remember me. But I want you to know, you’ve been pretty good company.”
Torren babbled and smiled, and Evan smoothed a hand over his soft hair. He remembered when his niece and nephew were babies, how small and fragile and terrifyingly alive they’d been in his arms. Evan headed for the nearest transporter, emerged in the command residential section, and made a beeline for Teyla and Kanaan’s room. As the only family on Atlantis, they merited the biggest quarters available.
He knocked, and the door hissed open.
McKay, Sheppard, and Teyla stood on the other side.
Teyla plucked Torren from Evan’s arms and ducked out of the room. The door shut before Evan could follow her. He stared at the closed door and sighed, then turned around to face the other two men.
“This feels an awful lot like an ambush, sir. Should I radio for back-up?”
“You’ve been avoiding us,” McKay said.
Evan lifted his chin. “I didn’t realize you were looking for me.”
“You’ve been impossible to find!” McKay protested.
“I’ve been a radio call away.”
Sheppard raised his eyebrows. “Would you have come when we called?”
“Of course, sir. If the Military Commander of Atlantis or the Chief Science Officer requested my presence, I’d report as ordered.”
“And if John and Rodney wanted...Lorne?” Rodney asked.
“Speaking of yourself in the third person is a sign of madness, sir. And my first name is Evan.”
“It’s a wonder any of your COs liked you,” Sheppard said, “when you’re all Pride and Prejudice during conflict.”
“Depends on the conflict, sir. If it requires force, I use force. If it does not, then I aim to be as amiable as possible.”
Sheppard and McKay stared at him.
Evan eyed both of them. “Was there something you needed?”
“We wanted to talk,” McKay said.
All of this we business. “What about?”
“About -” McKay made a fumbling gesture between the three of them.
Evan really, really wanted to bang his head against the wall. “We have had multiple conversations about my being Greenlit for you, Colonel Sheppard. I fail to see what there is to add to the discussion.” He crossed his arms over his chest, knew his posture was defensive, but he didn’t care.
“Why do you assume I don’t like you?” Sheppard asked.
Evan resisted the urge to roll his eyes. Even if Sheppard was no longer his CO, Sheppard outranked him. “Sir, we’ve had this conversation before.”
“I never said I didn’t like you,” Sheppard said.
Evan pressed his lips into a thin line. “Where was I born?”
Sheppard blinked. “What?”
“What does my mother do for a living?” Evan asked.
Sheppard glanced at McKay, who shrugged.
“Do I have any siblings?”
“Yes!” McKay said.
Sheppard raised his eyebrows.
“What?” McKay protested. “He told Teyla he had a niece and a nephew, so he was fine with babysitting Torren. If he has a niece and a nephew, he has at least one sibling. Simple deduction.”
“I must have missed that conversation,” Sheppard said flatly.
“What am I rated to fly?” Evan asked.
At that, Sheppard looked pleased. “F-302, jumper, F-16, C-130.”
“What’s my favorite band?”
“Trick question,” Sheppard said. “Your favorite musical artist is Joni Mitchell. You listen to her in the command office when you think I’m not around.”
“How do I take my coffee?”
“What do I like to do in my spare time? What was my post before I came to Atlantis?”
“At the SGC, obviously,” McKay said.
“Not helping,” Sheppard muttered. “Lorne -”
“You don’t like me, sir,” Evan said. “And you can’t tell me you do, because you don’t even know me. If you liked me, you’d stop cornering me and hashing and rehashing this issue that, for the last time, has nothing to do with you.”
“You’re bonded to me,” Sheppard said softly.
“It’s a one-way street. You can’t feel me, can’t sense my emotions, don’t notice when I’m gone or hurt or afraid. If I die, you won’t feel a thing.”
“You love him,” McKay pointed out.
“Doesn’t mean I like him,” Evan spat. “I never had a choice in the matter. I ran into him in the hallway and he said these damned words that have been written into my flesh since birth and I knew he was my soulmate, my perfect one. Knew if he had me, it’d be joy beyond imagining. But he took one look at me and then walked away like it meant nothing. Like I meant nothing. But I went along on the expedition anyway, because orders are orders, and I saw you two, and I knew something was wrong, with the bond, with me. Sheppard found out, and nothing changed. You found out that someone was Greenlit for your soulmate and all you cared about was having a handy tool around to find your precious soulmate if he got lost.”
“I’m right here,” Sheppard protested.
“My grandmother told me that having a soulmate would mean having an immediate connection the moment we meet, a connection so strong I’d be drawn to that person in a way I have never experienced before.” Evan curled his hands into fists. “I’m in love with John Sheppard, all right? Is that what you wanted to hear? The truth? I’m in love with John Sheppard, and I hate it.”
McKay reared back. “Major -”
Evan’s radio crackled. “Control for Lorne.”
He tapped his radio. “Go for Lorne.”
“Report to the gateroom for beaming aboard The Daedalus.”
“Be right there.” Evan lifted his head. “Am I dismissed, sir?”
McKay’s expression was miserable. Sheppard threw his hands up. “Yes. Go, Major.”
Evan flung a hand at the door lock, and the door hissed open. He spun on his heel and headed for the nearest transporter. He’d left his duffel bag in Control so he wouldn’t have to double back anywhere to get it. He’d been issued three weeks’ worth of supplies to last the trip home aboard The Daedalus - clothes, hygiene items, and a fancy e-reader loaded full of books from the Archivist.
He paused at Control to bid Woolsey, Dorsey, Teldy, Chuck, Amelia, and the other gate techs farewell. Walker, Coughlin, Stevens, Reed, and Teyla were down in the gate room to also wish him farewell.
“How did it go?” Teyla asked.
Evan pressed a kiss to Torren’s cheek, then straightened up. “McKay probably needs some tea and a listening ear,” he said.
Teyla frowned. “Major -”
“Don’t worry, Teyla. Nothing is going to change.” Evan shouldered his duffel bag, said his final goodbyes to his former team, and felt the Asgard beam wash over him.
As soon as he was aboard the ship and had made his greetings to Colonel Caldwell, he reported to the infirmary for his daily dose of the Fraiser-Lam treatment. Lam had made sure there were enough doses to last him the entire journey, plus a couple of spares in case anything went wrong. Evan had told his mother he’d developed diabetes - it ran in the family - when she saw him with one of the needles, and she’d been sympathetic and then very strict about his diet every time he went home to visit.
Evan hummed a tune as he made his way to his berth.
The needle tears a hole
The old familiar sting
Try to kill it all away
But I remember everything
Dr. Novak fell into step beside him as he walked. “Which version, Johnny Cash or Nine Inch Nails?”
“Always Johnny Cash,” Evan said wistfully.
Novak nodded. “I definitely think his version is better. Good to see you again, Major.” She smiled and then peeled away, headed down another corridor.
Evan found his berth, stowed his gear, and settled in for the long journey home.
Evan finished his debrief with Landry, checked in with his team - who’d been alarmed at how he’d vanished seemingly in the middle of the night and hadn’t contacted them at all till a week later, and then only by email to say he was on Atlantis and they should take advantage of their being stood down - and was changing in the locker room when Daniel found him.
“Mushu chicken and fried rice and The Usual Suspects at my place?” Daniel leaned against the locker beside Evan’s.
“Switch lo mein for fried rice and you’re on.” Evan smiled, buttoned his shirt quickly.
Daniel made a face. “What do you have against rice?”
“I just prefer noodles,” Evan said. He sat down and tugged on his shoes, laced them up fast - lacing up sneakers was so, so much faster than lacing up combat boots - and snagged his wallet and keys out of his locker. “Let’s go!”
Evan wandered around Daniel’s house, studying the various artifacts he had on display, while Daniel was on the phone with the Chinese take-out place, ordering in fluent Cantonese. Eventually Evan went into the den and browsed Daniel’s DVD collection - a lot less artsy and obscure and more mainstream, thanks to his friendships with Jack O’Neill and Cameron Mitchell - until he found The Usual Suspects, and then he got the DVD player going.
When the food arrived, there was a thirty-second debate over plates or no plates, and finally they carried the cartons and chopsticks into the den and fired up the DVD.
By the time the movie was finished, they’d polished off all the food, a bottle of beer each, and an entire bag of popcorn.
“I’m surprised you’re not more tired,” Evan said.
“Me?” Daniel echoed. “I’m surprised you’re not.”
Evan rolled his eyes. “Lazing around on The Daedalus for three weeks is very exhausting, yes.”
“How was it? On Atlantis? Near - him?” Daniel cast Evan a sidelong glance, hesitant.
“Handy, since I didn’t take any medicine with me.” Evan shrugged.
“Did Sheppard try to talk to you?”
“Only once, and I suspect McKay made him do it, since McKay cornered me first once he realized why I was on Atlantis.”
“Do you think you, Sheppard, and McKay could ever -?”
“No. Sheppard doesn’t like me, and as far as McKay is concerned, I’m just a homing beacon for Sheppard.”
Daniel pursed his lips thoughtfully. “Are you sure? I mean, you never even gave either of them a chance to try.”
“You do know I’m in the Air Force, right? Sheppard’s my CO, and there’s DADT issues all over, even if Sheppard and McKay have a handy exception going for them. Sheppard’s not bonded to me, and McKay is a man, and - besides, I have the meds now. I’ll be fine. Carson and I went over the literature when he first realized what was up. I know there’s nothing wrong with me, that my bond is functioning as it’s supposed to, and I’m luckier than basically any other Greenlit to have come before me.”
“And so you’re going to be Major Polite But Cranky till the day you die?”
“I was hoping for at least a Lieutenant Colonel Polite But Cranky before I retired.”
Daniel stared down at his hands for a moment. Then he started to peel off his t-shirt.
“Whoa, Doc,” Evan said, startled.
Daniel cast him a sharp look, and Evan immediately felt foolish, because he and Daniel had been friends for a long time, and if there was one thing Evan knew about Daniel, it was that he was honest about his emotions, and they were just friends.
Daniel set aside his shirt, and Evan saw the soulmark on his collarbone, angled so it would be hidden by even a tank top. It looked like hieroglyphics, but not quite. Evan had never learned to read Goa’uld, though he could swear in it quite passably.
“What does it say?” It was black, tinged red around the edges. Red, for a broken bond.
“My name, actually.” Daniel pushed his glasses up his nose. “I never told anyone this before, but the first time we talked, I didn’t speak her language, and she didn’t speak mine. I pointed to myself, said Daniel, and then she pointed to herself and said it too, and all my life, I’d never known what my soulmark said, but I felt it. That moment. You know that moment?”
“I always wondered how soulmarks worked for people who were illiterate or mute or blind or deaf,” Daniel said, and Evan cleared his throat, because as much as Daniel could be honest about his emotions, he could also get easily sidetracked into a tangent while he was gearing up to talk about them. “Right. Sorry. I just - I thought I would never move past Sha’re. I’ll never stop loving her - that’s impossible. She’s my soulmate. But I…” Daniel smoothed a hand over his soulmark absently. “I think I can love someone else.”
Evan stared at him. “Are you saying what I think you’re saying?”
“Evan,” Daniel said, “I think I’m in love with Vala.”
“Really? Wow. How did you know? I -”
Daniel laughed, the sound a little hysterical. “I don’t know. I just - I looked at her one day, and you know that ache?”
Evan pressed a hand to his sternum. “Yeah.”
“It was gone. Even with the medicine, it’s always there, but then she was pouting and trying to get me to take her shopping at the mall and I was exasperated and it was gone. So - I had to tell someone. I figured if anyone would understand, it would be you.” Daniel peered at Evan. “It’s been, what, four years for you? Maybe it’s time to move on.”
Evan knew it had been a lot longer for Daniel and Sha’re. “Yeah,” he said softly. “Maybe it is.” Then he said, “Hey, want to see my soulmark? It’s kind of in an awkward place, but we’re friends, right?”
“I’d be honored if you showed me.”
Evan untucked his shirt and pushed it up, tugged down his pants far enough for Daniel to see.
“Sheppard doesn’t have very nice handwriting,” Daniel observed, and Evan laughed. “The poster boy for what?”
“You know, I never really found out.”
Both men straightened their clothes, and they sat in companionable silence.
“Got an early day tomorrow?” Evan asked.
“Nope. Get to sleep in. It’ll be glorious.”
“I’d better go. Looks like we’re scheduled for a check-in with the Unas on P3X-403 tomorrow, pretty early.” Evan yawned and stretched, climbed to his feet. “Thanks for the hang-out. Next time, my place. Homemade Napoli pizza and Velvet Goldmine.”
Daniel grinned. “You’re on. Good night, Evan.”
“Good night, Daniel. And good luck with Vala.”
Mom had been inordinately pleased that Evan was posted stateside again, and he made sure to visit her whenever possible. He never stayed on the commune itself for very long. If he’d felt out of place when he was a kid there, he felt even more out of place with his regulation haircut and dog tags and tendency to call anyone more than five years his senior ma’am or sir. He tended to stay in the city with his sister and her kids, and he’d babysit and help out at Natalia’s tattoo parlor or even wander the city and visit some of his favorite old haunts.
Evan was on leave in San Francisco when a fireball came streaking across the sky, and there was a splash in the Bay, and there was a flurry of panic, and then the Navy and Coastguard were setting up a perimeter around seemingly nothing.
Everyone in the tattoo parlor was buzzing about it. Gabby and Mikey, Evan’s niece and nephew, were convinced aliens had landed on Earth. Evan saw more than one aerial shot of the scene on the news and, judging by the shape and size of the blockade, knew it was an alien city but with mostly Earther people aboard.
Atlantis had come home.
“How can you not be curious?” Natalia demanded.
Evan smiled enigmatically, in a way he knew made her crazy. “I work for the military, remember? In a classified operation.”
“So you know what’s in the Bay?”
“So I know the military has a way of making a big deal out of something small to keep the important things out of the public eye,” Evan said, which was true but not the truth.
Natalia pouted at him. “You’re no fun.”
“I do work for The Man,” Evan pointed out.
Natalia tossed a dirty rag at him. He dodged it effortlessly. “Finish hanging up the damn posters, baby brother. I’m going to the Freedom of Information Rally with Mom. I want to know what’s in the Bay.”
“There are more things in heaven and earth, Natalia, than are dreamt of in your philosophy,” Evan said.
Natalia growled. “You’re a pain in the ass, Evan Bluebell Lorne, did you know that?”
“Love you too, Natalia Sparkles Lorne.”
Natalia stomped out of the shop.
Evan rolled up his sleeves and resumed hanging up posters in the window. Even though Natalia held to the commune philosophies a lot more than Evan ever had, she’d never disparaged him for his career choice, and she was offering a Memorial Day special on tattoos, for any active duty or retired serviceman or woman looking for ink.
Evan had just about put up the last poster when the door swung open.
“Be with you in a moment,” Evan said.
“So...you’re the new poster boy.”
Evan spun around. Sheppard and McKay stood in the doorway.
“Welcome back to Earth, sir, Doc,” Evan said. “Heard you made quite a splash.”
McKay narrowed his eyes. “You said that with a straight face.”
“I am a straight-laced guy,” Evan said. “What can I do for you? Looking for some ink to commemorate your time in service or a particularly special posting? Or something a little more...mutual and romantic?”
“I’m not getting Rodney’s name tattooed on my ass,” Sheppard said flatly.
“I never would have suggested it, sir.” Evan smiled innocently.
Sheppard took a deep breath. “Look, Major, we don’t plan on being here for very long. And you weren’t wrong - Teldy’s been a great XO. But she’s not...you. When we ship back out there, we want you with us.”
Evan studied them. Sheppard looked apprehensive, but he exuded that air of Sheppard confidence that had undoubtedly made his past CO’s want to slap him. McKay, by comparison, looked worried.
“No thank you, sir.”
McKay opened his mouth to protest.
“I learned something, after my last visit to your base,” Evan said. “I don’t have to be Greenlit forever.”
McKay frowned. “What?”
“Someone who had a black bond that was broken can recover, can move on, can love someone new. So it stands to reason that someone greenlit can also move on. And I’d like to give that a try.” Evan shrugged.
McKay glanced at Sheppard, and something unspoken passed between them.
“What if -” Sheppard swallowed hard. “What if you weren’t alone? On Atlantis.”
What did that mean? “I’m afraid I don’t understand, sir.”
McKay rolled his eyes. “Apparently neither Carson nor Carolyn read the literature about the Greenlit very closely. Even though the person you’re Greenlit for has a black bond for someone else, that doesn’t mean that relationship is closed.”
Evan thought he knew what that meant, but he had to be hearing things. “Doc?”
“As you rightfully pointed out,” McKay said, “your being Greenlit for John has never interfered with my relationship or bond with him. Whatever you feel for him, it doesn’t diminish what we have. And I’m a generous man, so I can share.”
The knot behind Evan’s breastbone flared, like he wasn’t on his meds at all. “Doc, no. Colonel Sheppard’s not a - a party favor you can share around. I’m not looking for pity. I told you, I’m ready to move on.”
“I’m not treating John like a party favor,” McKay snapped. “We talked about this in detail, like a pair of rational adults.”
Evan glanced at Sheppard. “Sir?”
“In the grand scheme of things, maybe you shouldn’t be calling me ‘sir’ right now,” Sheppard said.
Evan started to ask, Why? and Sheppard leaned in and kissed him.
The brief brush of lips was everything Evan had ever dreamed of, ever hoped for. Sheppard’s lips were warm and soft, and his hand on Evan’s shoulder sent tingles down Evan’s spine, and in a flash, Evan knew that this was only the beginning of the best it could ever be for him.
Evan wrenched himself backward, scrubbed his hand over his mouth. “Sir!”
Sheppard looked supremely annoyed. “Lorne -”
“There are no exceptions to the chain of command, not even for a black bond.” Evan backed up, hit the window, slid sideways toward the counter. He had to put space between himself and Sheppard, because his heart was pounding, his head was reeling, it was like the very first time Sheppard had spoken his soul mark all over again.
“It’s Atlantis,” Sheppard said. “You know things are different there.”
Evan scrambled behind the counter. “Why do you keep doing this to me?”
“Doing what to you?” McKay asked.
Evan’s eyes burned with tears; he blinked them back furiously. “Toying with me! With my emotions, I -”
“The whole point of being Greenlit,” McKay said, “is that you’re a rescue. For when a black bond is broken.”
Evan stared at him. “So?”
“So it means I am going to suffer an untimely demise and John’s going to be left alone and I want him to be happy. I want the transition to be - smooth.” A spasm crossed McKay’s face, and Evan realized McKay was afraid. Not just the kind of afraid he got when he was offworld and nervous about encountering a Wraith. The kind of afraid that paralyzed even the bravest men in a tense situation.
“Usually the way it works is the person who’s Greenlit doesn’t meet the person they’re bonded to until after the black bond has been severed, but things being what they are, with modern technology and travel and -” McKay fluttered a hand dismissively. “Whatever. Things go a bit awry.”
Evan stared at Sheppard. “So I’m your back-up plan.”
Sheppard winced. “When you put it like that -”
Evan shook his head. “Go. Please go. Right now.”
McKay’s mouth twisted into a frown. “Major -”
Evan fled. It was the cowardly thing to do, but he didn’t care. He fled for the back supply room and locked the door behind him. He sank to the floor and listened until he heard fading footsteps, the bell ringing over the door. Then he called the SGC.
“Major Lorne,” Dr. Lam said, “what can I do for you?”
“There’s something wrong with the treatment,” Evan said. He was curled up in the corner, knees pulled tightly to his chest, struggling to breathe.
“Sheppard kissed me,” Evan said in a small voice.
“Where are you?”
“I’ll put in a call to the CMO at Travis. Sit tight, Major.”
“Thanks, Doc.” Evan rattled off the address of the shop.
“Anything else?” Dr. Lam asked.
“Could you - could you patch me through to General Landry, if he’s around?”
Evan closed his eyes and listened to the frankly terrible hold music the SGC used.
“Go for Landry.”
“Sir, it’s Major Lorne.”
“Major, what can I do for you?”
Evan had to choose his words carefully, because his cell phone was an unsecured line. “I’m sure the program is in crisis right now, what with the return of our forward base, but I thought I’d give you a heads up - I’d like to resign my commission. I’ll file the appropriate paperwork -”
“Slow down, son. What happened?”
“Sir, please. I need to do this.”
“You’re so close to your twenty, son.” There was a pause, a murmur in the background; it sounded like Dr. Lam. “I see. I’ll tell you what - I’ll transfer you out of the program. Get you stationed at Hickham. Logistics. You’re good at that. It’ll give you time to think about this decision rationally, all right? I know you’re a little under the weather right now. Best not to make such a decision till you’re firing on all cylinders, right, major?”
Evan tried to take a deep breath, failed, panicked a little. “Yes, sir.”
“All right. I’ll get that transfer processed as soon as possible. Hold tight, son. Help is on the way.”
“Thank you, sir.”
And Evan’s world went dark.
“Welcome back to the land of the living, Major.”
Evan blinked. The people standing over him were strangers, but they were wearing white lab coats and military IDs.
“You’re at Travis Air Force Base, Major,” said the doctor. Dr. Bruno, her name was. She had a bright smile.
“Um. I like your glasses,” Evan said.
Dr. Bruno laughed. “Carolyn said you were a nice guy. How are you feeling?”
“Like I can breathe again, which is nice.” Actually Evan felt great. Well-rested. “How long was I out?”
“Not too long. Only about eight hours. We had to give you a double-dose of your meds to stave off the symptoms of acute bond shock.” Dr. Bruno shone a penlight in Evan’s eyes, checked his pulse. “I consulted with Carolyn, and it looks like we’ll have to up your regular dosage a little bit, but not much.”
“Will that happen again?” Evan asked. “I mean - I don’t think my soulmate is ever going to kiss me again. But what if I try to, I don’t know, date someone else?”
Dr. Bruno raised her eyebrows. “Someone else?”
“One of my friends had a black bond, got widowed. He was on the treatment for years, and he said he fell in love with someone new, and he’s off the treatment now.” Evan pushed himself up so he was sitting.
“I’ll have to confer with Carolyn,” Dr. Bruno said. “In the meantime, I’ll let your new CMO know about your condition. Follow all her instructions, and should the issue of you dating someone else arise, she can handle it.”
“My new CMO?” Evan asked.
“Once your leave is done,” Dr. Bruno said, “you have a new posting.”
And Evan remembered his conversation with General Landry. Hickham AFB. “Right. Yes. I’ll be sure to check in with the CMO there.”
“In the meantime,” Dr. Bruno said, “your family is waiting to see you. Your mother thinks you have diabetes and that you mismanaged your diet.”
Evan had the good grace to look chagrined.
“Surely your mother knows about your soulmark.”
“The edges don’t turn green till we meet our soulmates,” Evan said. “Even then, the condition isn’t very well-known. I’d never heard of it, and plenty of people in my family have soul marks, varying colors.”
“Well, your medical privacy is your own.” Dr. Bruno’s expression was disapproving. “Shall I let them back?”
“Please,” Evan said. Dr. Bruno left the room. Evan took a deep breath and steeled himself for fussing and worrying and nagging about his diet.
“Bluebell!” Natalia cried. She ran to him and hugged him tightly. “I leave you alone at the shop for ten minutes and you go and almost eat yourself into a diabetic coma?”
“No coma,” Evan said. “I just - felt light-headed all of a sudden. Doc said she had to adjust my med dosages is all. Everything will be fine.”
Mom stroked Evan’s hair. “My poor baby. You’re so delicate.”
“Not that delicate,” Evan protested. “Anyway, I have news.”
“News?” Mom drew back. “What kind of news?”
“I’m getting transferred to a new post.”
Natalia raised her eyebrows. “Away from Colorado?”
“Where to?” Mom asked.
“Hawaii. Hickham.” Evan smiled. “If you come visit, it’ll be awesome.”
Mom narrowed her eyes. “Does it have to do with whatever’s going on in the Bay?”
“No,” Evan said, which wasn’t entirely true.
“Will you be doing something dangerous?” Natalia asked.
“Not at all. Just logistics. A nice, easy post till I finish out my twenty.”
Mom stroked his hair again, fussed with the blanket. “If you say so.”
“I promise,” Evan said.
Natalia leaned in and kissed Evan on the cheek. “All right. We’ll definitely have to come visit.”
Evan liked the sound of that.
When it was time for Evan to ship off to Hawaii, he was surprised at who met him at the tarmac. His mother, sister, grandmother, niece, and nephew he’d expected at the airport. He doled out hugs and pats and let his mother and sister kiss him and his grandmother pinch his cheek. He promised to call and write and send pictures and paint pictures, and that they were welcome to visit any time they wanted. He promised to take care of himself and also visit whenever he could.
Then he stepped onto the tarmac, headed for the C-130 designated to carry him and other Air Force personnel to Hawaii. Arrayed just below the stairs up to the cabin were Dr. Lam, Daniel Jackson, Captain Elliot, Captain Hailey, and Captain Satterfield.
Evan came up short.
“Didn’t think you could get away without saying goodbye, did you?” Daniel asked.
In all the madness - getting discharged from the hospital, packing up his place in Colorado - Evan and Daniel hadn’t had a chance to hang out.
“I didn’t mean -”
“I know.” Daniel pulled Evan into a hug. “Take care of yourself,” he whispered, and when he pulled back, he clapped Evan on the shoulder. “Next time I’m out there, I can come crash with you, right?”
“Absolutely,” Evan said. He added, “Give my best to Vala.”
Daniel squeezed Evan’s shoulder. “May you find a Vala of your own.” Then he stepped back, let the rest of SG-17 have their moment.
Elliot saluted. “It was an honor serving with you, sir.”
“And with you, Captain.” Evan smiled. “It’s high time they gave you your own team, yes?”
“Not just him,” Hailey said. “We all learned a lot from you.”
“We’re going to miss you, sir,” Satterfield added.
Hailey rolled her eyes. “You’re just going to miss his brownies.”
Evan shook their hands. “Good luck out there. Godspeed and good hunting.”
“Have fun on the beach, sir,” Hailey said.
“You know I will.” Evan’s team had grown up. He wondered if this was how parents felt, realizing their kids were adults. Each of them was wearing new team patches. They saluted, and Evan returned their salute, and then they stepped back to give Dr. Lam a moment.
“Evan,” she said.
“Please. Carolyn.” She pressed a little black zippered bag into his hands. “An emergency dose, for the flight. To be safe. I spoke to my father, and he’s arranged it so no one besides those of us here knows where you were transferred to.”
It took Evan a moment to realize Carolyn was referring to General Landry. “That’s very generous of him, but I don’t understand.”
“My younger sister Vanessa,” Carolyn said softly. “She was Greenlit for a man who wasn’t bonded to anyone else but who didn’t love her back, and she - she took her own life.”
“I’m so sorry.”
“We didn’t know then what we know now. Your experiences have given me invaluable medical data that I - you’ve been tough, Major. But we want to keep you safe.”
“Call me if you need anything.”
“I won’t hesitate.”
Carolyn looked him up and down. “Yes, you will. You soldier types are all the same.” But she kissed him on the cheek and stepped back, and then it was time for him to go.
At Hickham, Evan was one of a dozen logistics officers, in charge of maintaining the supply line to the islands and the rest of the bases along the Pacific Rim. He kept his head down, he was quiet, and he did the best he could at his job. He made friends with a few of the other officers, went surfing on the weekends, had a regular poker night, learned to cook local dishes and a few of everyone’s favorites from home for special occasions, like holidays and birthdays. He painted on the weekends, and he took photographs. He hiked and biked and ran and swam. He visited his family, and his family visited him.
He mustered out at the end of his twenty, a lieutenant-colonel for his time, and no one the wiser of his involvement in the Stargate Program (or the existence of the program at all). His family, Daniel, and his friends on base attended his retirement ceremony, and there was a huge meal afterwards. Evan walked away from service and knew it was time well spent, a job well done. After all the party-goers left, he helped his mother, sister, and grandmother clear away the party debris. After all of them went to bed, Evan sat on the sand and watched the sun set. Then he went inside, took his dose of medicine, and slept.
He rose early on his first day as a civilian, and he took his board out to the surf. He paddled out onto the waves and watched the sun rise.
“Poster boy no more,” he said to himself. He had to hurry to catch his first wave.