For Erin,

Who makes the world brighter just by being in it


Finding Joy

When Major Lorne woke up on the morning of May sixth to the familiar walls of his bedroom in Atlantis, he had no idea that it was his birthday.

First, some things need to be clarified. It wasn't that he didn't know the date of his own birth, but rather that he had no idea that the morning in question was May sixth at all. Come to point, Lorne wouldn't even have been able to tell someone what week it was; a grueling off-world mission on a muddy planet with a thirty-two hour day had completely busted his internal clock.

No civilized planet should run on anything longer than a twenty-six hour day. Lorne had decided this after considerable first-hand experience. And Perrish had agreed with him, which meant that science probably backed it up too (he chose to ignore the fact that Perrish's field was botany, which really had nothing to do with planet cycles. He figured McKay would probably agree with them anyway). In any case, the only thing on his mind that morning was a long hot shower and a big breakfast of whatever Athosian root the cooking staff had decided to experiment with this month.

Lorne didn't once think about that obnoxious birthday song his brother used to sing to him growing up, or the big pancake breakfast his Mom would whip up because she knew it was his favorite. As he shrugged on his jacket and tucked his radio into his ear, the Major spared a moment only to send a silent prayer to whoever felt like listening that his family would stay safe a galaxy away, just like he did every other normal day.

The Major somehow managed to make it through the entire morning without seeing a calendar once. He spent most of the time in the gym, watching Ronon beat up the newest batch of Marines from Earth. Not for the first time, Lorne wondered how the heck Sheppard managed to run with the huge man and not get something dislocated.

It wasn't until lunchtime that he wandered down to the infirmary for his post-mission physical. Doctor Carson Beckett flashed him a smile and waved him to a bed. "There yeh are, lad. Come on, let's get yeh checked out and on your way."

"Thanks, doc." Lorne sat without protest. He liked the Scot; Carson made a point of checking out the front-line teams personally when he had the time, and the Major found his cheerful chatter comforting. He observed the other patients in the infirmary out of habit and caught sight of an unconscious McKay several beds down. "What happened to him?"

Beckett looked up from the blood pressure cuff around Lorne's arm to favor McKay's form with an affectionately exasperated glance. "Bloody idiot went an entire day holed up in his lab without eating. Nearly went into hypoglycemic shock. For being so smart, the man's a right dunce when it comes to rememberin' basic things."

Once again, Lorne spared a moment to be amazed at his commanding officer's ability to work with such a crazy team. Teyla was the only one that seemed like she actually knew what she was doing half the time—Sheppard included, though Lorne would probably walk around the Gate room in a dress before he'd admit that to the colonel. "Leave it to McKay to beat Wraith, Genii and Replicators, just so he can kill himself."

Carson chuckled wryly and opened up Lorne's chart. "Aye. The man is nothing if not pig-headed." The doctor's blue eyes widened as he looked down at the papers in his hands. "For heaven's sake, Major, why didn't you say anything?"

Lorne felt a moment of panic deep in his chest. "What're you talking about, doc?" Had he contracted some kind of disease from all that soaked through food he'd been eating the last week? He made a quick mental checklist of all the contagions he'd been exposed to before silently smacking himself for acting too much like McKay.

Beckett shook his head in amazement. "I'll never understand how you military types manage to keep us all from gettin' killed when you can't even keep your days straight." He turned the medical chart to face his patient and pointed at Lorne's birth date. "It's your birthday, son."

For a long moment, the other man just sat there staring at the letters. Finally, his brown eyes made the trek up to Carson's, his brow furrowed in thought. "We're in May already?"

"Aye, lad. For nearly a week now."

It took a long time for Lorne's smile to surface, but when it finally did, it lit his whole face up. "Well, would you look at that."

Carson smiled back and patted him on the shoulder. "Well, in honor of the day, then, we'll skip the full range of scans. Go on, go find something you actually want to do."

Lorne didn't need telling twice. He bounced off the bed and returned the doctor's slap on the shoulder. "Thanks, Carson."

"Happy Birthday!" Beckett called after him. He looked after the departed Major for a long moment, a small smile on his face, before he went off to check on Rodney.

--

Lorne was halfway through the lunch line in the mess when Sheppard finally caught up with him. The colonel slapped his second in command on the back, smiling cheerfully. "Lorne! Nice trip?"

The major had a grin hovering around the edges of his mouth, but his words were completely serious. "Mud, sir. Enough mud to build a scale model of Atlantis and still have some leftover for one of Manhattan. The Yarlens offered us some nice little cucumber things that should taste decent with enough ranch dressing, though. The botany department wants to have a party."

"That's great," Sheppard said in that tone of voice that meant he really wasn't listening because he wanted to talk about something else. "Look, I was wondering…I've got a mission this afternoon, and I've got all this paperwork that Elizabeth says I've gotta get done before I go…"

"Sounds like you should get started on that, sir," Lorne replied with a raised eyebrow. He knew what was coming. That didn't mean he had to play right into Sheppard's hands. "Want me to bring you some lunch in your office, so you can get working on it right away?"

The other officer's eyes narrowed. The game was afoot. "Actually…" the drawl paused for a long moment to build suspense. "I was hoping you could finish it up for me. You know how it is, the burden of command and all."

Lorne let the pent-up smile dimple his cheeks. "Sorry, sir, but I've got an appointment with an empty canvas."

That one threw Sheppard through a loop. Lorne managed to make it all the way to a table before the other man caught up to him. "What're you talking about, Lorne?"

"I paint, sir," the Major informed him. "And I've got a city skyline and a set of watercolors with my name on them."

There was a telling pause in conversation at the tables around them, and Lorne knew he'd never live this one down. It was worth it for the look on Sheppard's face as he tried to comprehend the fact that his XO would rather spend a day on an artistic endeavor than on his CO's paperwork.

Lorne managed to maintain a pretty convincing look of innocence. "Look, sir, if it was up to me I'd love to help you out, but it's Doctor Beckett's orders." He made a break out the door, sandwich in hand. "Good luck on those reports, colonel."

He happily ignored his commanding officer's confusion as he headed for his quarters. "Beckett told you to paint?"

Lorne had a feeling that his mom would have gotten a kick out of her little boy standing up against the big bad military man with only a paintbrush and his wit.

--

John Sheppard wandered into the infirmary and propped himself against the open door of Beckett's office. "You told Lorne to paint?"

Carson looked up from a notepad and blinked at him. "Sorry, what?"

"Lorne just blew off doing my paperwork to go watercolor a skyline, and he said that you told him to do it." John crossed his arms over his chest and glared at the doctor to get his annoyance across.

Apparently the look needed work, because the Scot stared at him for a long moment before bursting into laughter. By the time he managed to collect himself, both Sheppard and several of the nursing staff were giving him odd looks. He found that he didn't particularly care. "It's his birthday, colonel. I told him to do something he enjoyed with his free time. Sounds like he put yeh in your place. Heaven's sake, lad, Elizabeth wanted our reports in a week ago!"

Sheppard ignored the jibe in favor of more important information. "It's his birthday? Today?"

Carson's blue eyes twinkled at him. "Aye. The entire day, matter of fact." His expression softened at the mulish look he received from Atlantis' military commander. "I'm sorry if I went a wee bit too far, son, but I thought he needed a day to remember the good parts of life. He didn't even realize the date until his appointment with me this morning. My mum always said that there's no better time to enjoy life than the anniversary of the day yeh started livin' in the first place." Their eyes met with understanding as the doctor shrugged. "Seems like none of us take the time to enjoy much of anything these days."

John looked out over the infirmary thoughtfully. Carson recognized the look as the one the colonel got when he was strategizing before a mission. At last, Sheppard turned towards him again and smiled. "You know what, Carson? You're right."

The doctor groaned and the glint in his friend's eyes. "You just got one of your blasted ideas."

"Yep," the other man replied easily. "And since Rodney's down for the count, I think you just volunteered to help."

--

When the sun finally got low enough in the sky to change his lighting, Lorne sat back with a happy sigh and viewed the canvas in front of him. The colors were good; it had taken him almost an hour to find just the right shade of blue for the waves, but it had been worth it. It was one of those pictures that he wished his mom could see. Maybe someday he'd be able to mail one of these for her to put above the kitchen table; he could pick out one for his brother, too.

He snorted a little at the sentimental thought. Yeah. The Stargate becoming declassified was about as likely as Kavenaugh suddenly deciding to give his salary to an elementary school's fine arts program. The Major collected his supplies and dropped them off in his quarters. He propped the canvas up by the window and watched the sunlight play across the paint for a moment before running a hand through his hair. He caught site of himself on the way out the door—a streak of white paint graced one cheek, and somehow he'd gotten a little of it in his hair, too. His old t-shirt and jeans were already so speckled with the remains of countless paintings that he couldn't figure out which ones were new.

Lorne smiled at his own reflection and saw the sincerity in it. "Happy birthday," he said with a grin. It was a good day. If the kitchen staff served the almost-pie at dinner, he figured he couldn't ask for much more.

Beckett arrived at the transporter at the same time he did. The doctor raised his eyebrows. "Well, and don't you look like you've just been having a grand old time."

"Yeah, I guess you could say that," the major agreed. "I was just heading down to get some food." The two men stepped into the transporter and whisked five floors down in the blink of an eye.

Carson eyed the other man critically as they walked down the hallway towards the mess. "Actually, Major, I meant to ask yeh somethin' while we were talking earlier."

Lorne looked at him expectantly and just caught the sneaky grin that flashed across the Scot's face. "What?"

The doctor's grin was downright devious as they reached the mess doors. "How do you feel about surprise parties?"

Before Lorne could react, the door was open, Carson was politely but firmly guiding him inside, and what looked like every person in the entire expedition leapt out from behind tables and chairs to yell, "SURPRISE!"

He pegged Sheppard in the crowd and caught his eye; for a moment, the two men shared a brotherly bond. Then Lorne was being passed like a well-loved football between his friends, getting hugs and handshakes and even a few quick pecks on the cheek before he finally ended up at one of the tables where a huge mound of presents was haphazardly stacked. He stared in amazement; half of them were even gift wrapped, and when did anyone find time for that?

Carson appeared by his side again and handed him a cup of punch. "Here yeh are, lad."

Sheppard joined them, his elbow bumping Lorne's free arm. "Sorry about all the gag gifts, but we didn't have a lot of time to throw this thing together."

Lorne shook his head in amazement, still smiling. "Nah, this is great. Reminds me of the big bashes we used to have back home." He looked over at his CO and shook his hand. "Thanks, sir. Really." He spared another smile for Beckett as well. "You too, doc. I had no idea."

The kindly Scot just shrugged modestly. "Come on, someone managed to rustle up a chocolate cake. We better hurry before Rodney eats the lot."

"I've got Teyla babysitting him," John assured them. "He's not allowed near the sugar until the birthday boy gets a piece."

The cake was sweeter than Lorne usually liked, and it still tasted a little like the cardboard box the mix had come out of. He'd never tasted anything more delicious in his life. As he looked out over the crowd of his friends and coworkers, he found to his surprise that he wasn't homesick. Oh, sure, he wished he could see his family again, but for the first time he wished that they could be here with him, instead of the other way around.

He reached down to pick up a small tube that had fallen off the present table and discovered that it was SPF 120 sunblock. He didn't need to read the attached note to know it was from McKay. He could even forgive the fact that more than half the presents either had no first name on them at all, or had completely the wrong one. He really needed to get people to start calling him something other than "Lorne" or "Major".

Lorne picked up another present and read the tag, only to spit out a mouthful of cake in horror. "OK, who addressed their package to Major Spansky Lorne?!"

Amidst the laughter that followed, he realized that these people really were family after all.

When he went to bed that night, Lorne knew that it was his birthday, and that he had celebrated it just like his mom would have wanted him to: with laughter, friends, food…and a little bit of paint.


Author's Note: For those of you who haven't watched Kaven Smith's "name game" video on youtube yet, go do it. The Spansky thing won't make sense otherwise! Hope you enjoyed this little story; who doesn't like Lorne, really? Feel free to drop a line and tell me how I did.