Chapter 43: Epilogue

"You look terrible," Prue leaned back to look up at him, her expression shifting to concerned. "Have you been sleeping at all?"

"Not really," Evan dismissed her concern, his eyes taking in all the details of her. "You, on the other hand, look incredible." He touched a hand to her hair, following it over her shoulder and down to the small of her back, smiling. "I like this."

"I wasn't deliberately hiding myself," she explained earnestly, "but I needed an exterior that matched what I thought I was here to do. And to be honest, most of that studiousness you saw is me."

"Oh I know," Evan said feelingly, chuckling when she narrowed her eyes at him. Sighing, he settled his head back against the wall. "The past two months have been ... tough," he admitted. "I don't want to tell you how close to the edge I was Prue ... to be honest I'm still wondering if I've finally lost it and this is all just my delusion."

"I'm so sorry Evan," Prue lifted a hand to his cheek, her light caress touching his heart. "If I'd had a choice I would have been with you. I would have done anything to spare you that kind of pain." Her eyes filled with tears and she looked away.

"Don't," Evan urged her to look at him. "Don't hide from me, and for god's sake don't cry – I don't think I can take that right now."

Prue nodded, gave him a watery smile.

"So you've been ...," he waved a hand vaguely.

"With Fidesia mostly," Prue grabbed his hand, holding it tightly. "The not knowing was disturbing in a way only a being that has the capacity for omnipotence can appreciate. I had no choice of course, even though I tried my best to defy all of them. The fact that they could block me so effectively, keep me where I didn't want to be, despite my having the full power of an ascended being, really proved why we needed to get rid of the others. We did the right thing," she told him with certainty. "If they had gained followers there wouldn't have been enough of the others to hold them back."

It was his turn to nod wordlessly ... now that she was with him he didn't want to talk about the moment when he'd lost her. Even though he knew it was something he would never forget.

They lapsed into silence for a few moments before Prue sighed. "So ... ask your questions," she invited.

"I don't know where to begin," Evan admitted. "And I don't have as many questions as you're anticipating. Fidesia showed me, Prue."

"Showed you what?" Prue frowned.

"Your thoughts, before you took on the role of watching out for me," Evan explained. Even though it hadn't been his idea, he felt a little uncomfortable admitting it – what he'd seen was private and he was sure she wouldn't have voluntarily revealed so much.

"Oh," Prue looked shocked for a moment but then she surprised him, laughing as she looked at him. "Well, that saves a lot of time, doesn't it?"

"Ah ... yeah, I guess it does," Evan agreed. "She showed me Occulus too. It was ... amazing, Prue."

"I know," Prue smiled wistfully. "It was worth sacrificing everything for. I'm glad I don't have to hide that anymore because it means I can share it with you, tell you about my family, the people ... everything."

"I'd really like that," Evan said simply.

More silence followed until it was Evan's turn to break it with a question. "How much of the Prue I knew was you?" he asked in a low tone. It had troubled him, wondering whether Morgan had conjured 'the perfect woman' for him after invading his thoughts.

"Pretty much all of it," Prue didn't take offence. Laughing she continued. "Yes I really am this stubborn and opinionated. The Ancients gave me a mission and at first I was driven to succeed, no matter who tried to get in my way. Aside from being convinced they'd taken me straight from Occulus, and that I couldn't tell anyone, their changes were minimal. All they really did was plant enough information in my head, about Earth and the SGC, so I didn't have to think about being convincing as someone who came from there."

"What about SG-6, Colonel Barnes?" Evan persisted. "You never met him and yet ..."

"And yet I told you I did, in as many words," Prue shrugged. "You were so upset Evan, I could see it as soon as I walked into the gym that day. You probably won't believe this but it took a lot less time for me to fall for you all over again than you'd guess. I was already struggling to hide my emotions by then – to stick to my mission – and I felt driven to help you. I knew Colonel Barnes through your having known him so it wasn't that much of a stretch. I'm sorry for the deception."

"It's okay," Evan took a deep breath and then let it out. "And at the time you helped."

"That was the first time you touched me," Prue said wistfully. "Do you remember?"

"Like it was yesterday," Evan returned, clearly recalling that surge of heat when he'd grabbed her wrist. "That wasn't because of the Ancient's was it?"

"No, that was all us," Prue smiled. "It was the first time I had this feeling of déjà vu," she told him. "Not like I'd been there exactly like that before, but that I knew you more than I possibly could, that things weren't quite how I thought they should be. It happened more and more the closer we got, but I couldn't talk to you about it, not without -"

"Not without revealing the truth," he finished.

"I really did think they'd just remove me and replace me with someone else if I talked," Prue said. "And in such a way that you would never even realise anything was different. It troubled me that you wouldn't remember I'd ever been there. Maybe it was selfish but I couldn't bear that."

"They really have that kind of power?" Evan queried.

"Yes," Prue sighed. "The power to do anything they can conceive. That's why one of them went back and created those columns on P88-013 and here. They made them impervious to being destroyed or amended - don't ask me how, I just know they can't be changed. Those columns will be there, exactly as they are, when everything else has turned to dust."

"They needed an independent record, a deterrent for changing events," Evan understood at once what she was saying. "Otherwise how would they ever be able to tell what was intended?" He didn't point out that things could have been changed before that record had been created - thinking about all the twists and turns of messing with time would just drive him crazy.

"Exactly," Prue agreed.

"So that means what happened with us was always meant to be," Evan smiled at the thought.

"I guess so," Prue smiled too. "What you did was incredible Evan," she said. "I don't think even the Ancients really expected you could defeat so many of their kind, that you'd put yourself in so much peril for something that seemed insurmountable. I won't say it's changed them but they will look at humans differently in the future."

"I had help," he reminded her, forever modest and unassuming. "I wouldn't be here right now were it not for you - not that I wasn't angry at the time when I realised what you'd done. But ... did either of us ever really have a choice?"

"No, not really."

They fell silent for a time before Lorne spoke again. "So you not wanting to go to Earth was just because you knew it would blow your cover?"

"Yes," Prue agreed. "The Ancients probably could have smoothed over any problems but with Doctor Jackson there, a former ascended, I just couldn't take the risk."

"Good, because I want you to meet my family," Evan declared. "My sister especially. I ah ... I went there, to grieve I guess. It helped a little but I left her worrying about me. I ... we need to fix that."

"I'd like that," Prue smiled softly. "If they'll let me."

"Ah, yes," Lorne took a deep breath, letting it out resolutely. "No time like the present to get the ball rolling." Standing, he tapped his ear piece, reaching down a hand to help her up.

"Lorne to Colonel Sheppard."

There was a pause and then John's voice, muffled with sleep. "Major. You do know what time it is, right?"

"Yes Sir, but this can't wait," Lorne replied.

There was another pause and then Sheppard responded. "Okay. What do you need?"

Evan smiled, knowing his CO was probably thinking that he'd finally lost it over Prue. The fact that John was willing to talk even though it was four am was kind of touching. "This is something you need to see for yourself Sir," he said. "I'm on the balcony just off the hologram room."

"I'll be there in five," Sheppard promised, closing off the channel.

"What do you think he'll say?" Prue asked, obviously feeling nervous.

"I honestly don't know," Evan admitted, putting his arm around her bracingly. "But I promise you, no matter what, it's you and me from now on Prue. We'll work this out somehow."

The tears that glistened in her eyes told him that he couldn't have said anything better to reassure her.

It didn't take long for Sheppard to arrive. "Major?" he halted at the balcony doors, incredulous, his gaze shifting from Prue to his 2IC in disbelief.

"I know Sir," Lorne moved forward, bringing Prue with him. "But I swear this is really Prue. I know there was evidence to say otherwise but Fidesia did save her ... and Morgan and the other ascended returned her."

"Why?" John asked bluntly.

It was a fair question. Lorne wasn't sure he really understood himself.

"Because Evan asked them to," Prue smiled when both men looked at her with matching expressions of surprise and disbelief. "I don't think you appreciate the magnitude of what Evan did for the ascended Colonel. He fixed a problem they've grappled with for millennia ... one man where hundreds with powers far greater have failed. For that I think he could have asked for anything, not that he would."

"No, the Major isn't one for grandstanding," John shot his 2IC an amused look, "or for owning up to half of what he's clearly capable of doing."

"I'm ah ... I did say I was sorry about that, right?" Evan looked at Sheppard hopefully.

"You did, more than once," John agreed. "So Lorne here asked Morgan to bring you back and she just said sure, why not? That doesn't strike you as something to worry about?" he asked Evan.

"Yes, it does," Lorne admitted. "But at the same time I know that this really is Prue."

"You sound pretty sure about that," John looked at Prudence, frowning, clearly confused. "I hate to be sceptical but the Ancient's aren't exactly known for their benevolence. How do we know this isn't another one of their tricks ... for our own good of course."

"I understand Colonel," Prue said simply. "And I understand if you can't trust me straight away. I'm willing to undergo any testing you feel is necessary. I'll submit myself to be restrained too, if that helps."

"No you won't!" Lorne shot out before John could comment.

"The Major is right," Sheppard said, giving his 2IC a pointed look. "I don't think locking you up will be necessary. Elizabeth will want Carson to check you out though, for obvious reasons."

"I'll do whatever it takes if it means I can return to my job Colonel," Prue declared. "I may not have access to all the information I had before but I'm sure I can still make a valuable contribution."

"We'll talk about that later," John dismissed. Moving forward he stopped in front of Prue, looking at Evan with a question in his eyes. Lorne smiled, nodding, watching as his CO pulled Prue into a brief hug. Prue looked bemused, her eyes filling with tears as she hugged John back.

"It's good to see you alive and well Prue," Sheppard said, stepping back. "And not just because Evan's been pretty much useless since you've been gone."

"Hey, that's not true!" Lorne protested.

"It is," John said to Prue in an aside, raising a laugh from her. "It's early but I think we should wake Elizabeth. The sooner we get you started with those tests the sooner we can clear you to return to work."

"Thank you Colonel," Prue said gratefully.

"John," Sheppard reminded her. "And I'm sure Elizabeth will agree that this is nothing compared with getting Evan back to himself."

Putting a hand to Prue's back, the Colonel urged her forward. As they left the balcony and turned towards Doctor Weir's quarters, Prue glanced back to where Evan was following. He shrugged, urging her to go along with whatever John had planned. He'd hoped for a receptive response from his commanding officer, that's why he'd contacted the Colonel first. With John on their side the prospect that Prue could simply slot back into her prior role seemed more likely than it had before.

Late the same day Prue had completed a whole battery of tests and was resting – under Carson's keen observation – in one of the isolation rooms. Beckett had insisted Lorne go and get some rest, assuring Evan that Prue would be perfectly okay as a guest of his infirmary. Evan had no choice but to agree, pausing only to press a firm kiss to Prue's lips before leaving the infirmary.

News of Prue's return had flashed around the city like wildfire but Lorne managed to avoid being questioned directly, his entire day spent at her side. He wanted to talk to people, his team especially, but only if he could do it with Prue at his side, after they knew the outcome of all those tests. He'd intended to go to his quarters but instead ended up in the hologram room. The program was unresponsive – Rodney had suggested during the early morning debrief that Morgan had disabled it and that he'd look at fixing it when he had time.

For now the room was still silent. As he ran a hand over the console Evan tried to reconcile the events of the past few hours. He'd gone from wondering how he was going to get through the rest of his life without Prue to having her back ... because he'd asked. It just defied understanding.

"Take my advice Major, don't think about it," Colonel Sheppard said from the door. "It will only end up hurting your brain."

Evan laughed. "I think you're right Sir."

John moved into the room, looking around too. "Seems like only yesterday we stood in this room for the first time and found out there was a threat even deadlier than the Goa'uld," he commented.

"Yes Sir," Lorne watched his CO for a moment before speaking. "I have to thank you Colonel."

"For what?" John frowned.

"For accepting that Prue is what she says she is, what I said she was," Evan explained. "I don't think the rest of this would have been as easy without your support."

"You're a good man Evan, and an important part of this base," Sheppard replied. "We need you here, even more so now you've shown what you can do with the gene. And without Prue sacrificing herself I don't think you'd be standing there right now. She saved your life – when this whole thing went down and this morning when she chose you over staying with the Ancients ... it was the least I could do to make sure she had a life to return to."

"You knew how close to the edge I was," Lorne concluded. Running his hands through his hair he couldn't conceal the faint tremor. He was beyond tired and running solely on the euphoria of Prue being alive. And although she was back, letting go of the grief and worse, the knowledge of how quickly he could lose the most important thing in his life would take some time.

"I understand loss Evan," John revealed, "not to the degree you do but like I said when you got back, I can recognise a guy whose ship is sinking fast. You're my second but I'd like to think we're friends as well. Besides, we don't leave anyone behind, not in any sense of the word."

"No Sir," Lorne grinned. "And I appreciate the sentiment Colonel – and the friendship."

"So, you going to tell me about this gene thing of yours?" Sheppard queried casually.

"Sure, of course," Evan agreed just as casually. "What do you want to know Sir?"

"First, when we're talking about stuff like this I want you to call me John," Sheppard said firmly. "I'm not ordering you to talk to me and I'd understand if you don't want to. But if you do, start when you first worked out there was something going on with your gene."

"It's fine ... John," Evan smiled. "And that would be the day I arrived. The city spoke to me ... it was meaningless static in my head at the time but it distracted the hell out of me, before I managed to get the city to tone it down. It's been there ever since, to varying degrees."

"I don't hear the city," John offered. "I can feel her though ... like that tingling you get before you touch something and get an electric shock."

"Sounds just as distracting," Evan commented.

"Yeah, it was," John agreed. "Took a while to get used to it. But it does have its advantages ... drives McKay crazy how I know when we're close to something Ancienty – even before his instruments do."

"He wasn't too happy with me on the Orion either," Evan chuckled. "By then, with all the practice Prue made me do, I could make sense of the static. It helped me work out where to direct our efforts."

"There's something to all this, sure," Sheppard said, "but given the fact that the Ancients chose you long before you even got here I'm not convinced practising was the key. Maybe that was just the way Morgan and the others got you to open yourself up to what you could already do."

"You mean believe it and you can make it happen?" Evan clarified.

"Yes, that," John nodded. "If Morgan had turned up on day one and told us you had what it would take to save all her kind, what would we have done? Told her she was crazy probably. Instead they drew you in gradually until you had no choice."

"That damned frog in his boiling water again!" Lorne shook his head. "Despite the result, being manipulated like that really bugs the hell out of me."

"I'm not too happy about it either," John admitted. "Not because you did anything wrong Evan," he hastened to add. "Because it makes me wonder when or where else they'll dip their noses into our business again without our knowledge."

"If it makes you feel any better I don't think they can, not without risking the same problem happening again," Evan said. "Prue said those columns on P88-013 and here on M4R-322 are permanent – unchangeable. They keep the Ancients honest – all of them, good or bad. If we complete all the translations at both sites we'll be able to detect any deviations. I don't think Fidesia will be hovering over us anymore but with Prue here, if we do have suspicions of tampering, Fidesia might respond."

"That should alleviate the I.O.A.'s concerns," John looked thoughtful. "Plus it's another reason to argue that Prue should stay here. She's the best we have on Atlantis for completing those translations. Assuming Carson confirms she's as human as you or I, I think you're home free."

"You were worried the I.O.A. would request Prue submit for testing back on Earth?" Lorne blinked, wondering why that hadn't occurred to him as well.

"It was on the cards," John admitted. "You'll probably still have to take her to the SGC – General Landry will want to talk to both of you."

"I'll do whatever it takes," Lorne repeated Prue's words from earlier.

"I know you will," John smiled. "You might want to have a chat to Doctor Jackson, mention that he should fill General O'Neill in on the situation too. The General would be a good one to have in your corner if this goes all the way to the Pentagon."

Evan nodded, seeing the sense in using whatever connections he had. Rubbing his eyes he couldn't manage to stifle the yawn that overtook him.

"You need to get some sleep Major," John narrowed his eyes as though really seeing Evan for the first time. "You look like crap – if Carson or Prue see you like this my head will be on the chopping block too."

"Carson's maybe, but not Prue, Sir," Evan shifted back into their more formal relationship with ease. "She'd probably tell me off for keeping you up." It was subtle but he knew John would understand – Prue had always liked the Colonel and after this morning's support and John's genuine expression of happiness that she was okay, Sheppard would never be able to do wrong in her eyes.

"Carson is more than enough threat," John grinned. "Go – bed - now Major."

"Yes Sir," Lorne straightened, giving one of those formal nods that took the place of a salute around the city. And then, a smile playing over his face he turned and headed for his quarters because Sheppard was right. If Carson saw that he hadn't followed his suggestion already, he'd regret it the next time he needed medical attention.

"Well Major, Doctor," Carson smiled at both Prue and Evan. "I can say with complete certainty that Prue is one hundred percent human – not a trace of anything Ancient or ascended about her. You don't have the ATA gene," he turned to address Prue specifically, "and although I can't say for sure, with the antibodies you have as well as the basic make-up of your DNA I'd say you're exactly as you were before you Ascended the first time."

"The day Occulus was destroyed," Prue said softly.

"Aye," Carson agreed. "We'll need to keep an eye on you should any of the common Pegasus ailments break out – most of the associated viruses would have mutated considerably since you last had to worry about getting sick. Aside from that there's really nothing remotely interesting about you." He smiled at the relief that statement engendered in both of his audience.

"Thanks Doc," Evan said gratefully. "I assume you'll be including all of that in your official report?"

"Oh, aye, you can bet on it lad," Carson put a hand to Prue's shoulder fondly. "Anyone with a smidgeon of gray matter would know that this young lady belongs right here. Now, I'll inform Colonel Sheppard and Doctor Weir of my findings, but for now, you're free to go."

"Free," Prue repeated as she watched Carson walk away.

"For now," Lorne cautioned. He'd already filled her in on his conversation with John the previous evening. "We'll still have to answer to the SGC and the I.O.A."

"I'm not worried about that, not with Colonel Sheppard and Doctor Weir's support," Prue smiled. "What now?"

"Now we go to the Mess hall and face the music," Evan shrugged. "Coughlin and Reed should still be there – I owe them something after the past few weeks."

"What did you do?" Prue frowned, allowing him to take her hand as they walked down the corridor. Everyone they passed looked at Prue first and then him, usually breaking into a smile before nodding to both of them.

"Nothing," Lorne said defensively, not adding that that was the problem.

"Right, so I'll ask Nate then," Prue took the lead, turning into the mess hall and looking for Evan's team. Spotting them she tugged on Evan's hand, not stopping until they were standing beside the table where Coughlin, Reed, Cheung and Doctor Parish all sat, finishing breakfast.

"Sir," Coughlin shot to his feet. "Prue!" His eyes locked on Prue and it was like he couldn't resist. Stepping forward he pulled her into his arms, hugging her tightly. "We heard the news. Man, are you a sight for sore eyes!" he exclaimed.

Prue hugged him back, only letting go when Dan got up, eager to take his turn.

"You might as well hug her too," Evan told Cheung and Parish ruefully. Smiling, the two took him at his word, completing the reunion exchange. Once they were all seated again, Lorne looked around the table. "I ah ... I should apologise for being less than communicative the past few weeks," he said.

"By that he means he refused to talk to us," Nate translated for Prue.

"Evan," Prue frowned at him.

"What?" Evan's brow rose as he looked back at her innocently. "Hey, you try losing the love of your life and see how talkative you are!"

"He's got a point," Dan told Nate.

"Don't even go there!" Nate protested. He was the only other one of Lorne's team who had a girl – that had given him an edge in understanding what his CO had gone through but he'd still found it hard to work out how to help the Major. "We're all glad to have you back ... both of you."

"I missed all of you," Prue said sincerely.

"With any luck Prue will be going back to her old job," Evan explained. "I don't think we'll get away without a trip back to earth first but once that's done we should be back to business as usual."

"Good, because I miss going off world Sir," Dan said feelingly.

"The city not exciting enough for you?" Evan quipped.

"Not in the last week or so," Reed returned. "I'm young Sir ... I get bored easily."

Nate laughed. "He's right about one thing – he's young all right ... I think the correct term is 'immature'." Everyone laughed, even Reed.

"I'm sure something will come along to liven things up for you Airman," Lorne promised. "Now, tell me what's been going on the past few weeks. I'll admit that I haven't exactly been paying attention."

Coughlin answered for them all, running through the basics. Evan sat back, listening, watching the reactions of them all, but especially Prue. She looked happy ... and comfortable. With a start of surprise he realised he'd already gotten used to the changes in her appearance. She was just Prue to him now ... as she'd been before and as she always would be. And he knew he could weather just about anything with her beside him.

The End

Authors Note:

After eighteen months, seven background stories plus this one, almost half a million words (gah!), and so many hours I can't even begin to estimate them, I declare this series finally complete! I know, hard to believe isn't it? Thank you all for sticking with me - especially those of you who've reviewed pretty much every chapter - that's what kept me wanting to post and I really appreciate it. This was probably the most difficult of all the stories I've written to complete, because I'm so taken with the character of Lorne and I really wanted to do him justice and create an OC worthy of winning his heart. I don't expect universal approval on achieving that but I personally am very happy with Prue and with how this turned out. If you want to see who I'd pick to play Prue, I have added a banner to my website, on the Forlorn Hope page.

I don't have plans to add more stories to this series, even though it ends in season three just before Progeny so there is plenty more canon to cover. I won't rule it out but I can't promise anything - can't resist inspiration would have to strike to fuel me. Or you could all overwhelm me with demanding reviews and MAKE me write something *grins*.

In all seriousness, this is my personal favourite of all the stories I've written. Thank you for sharing it with me.