Name: Just As Good
Famdom: Stargate Atlantis
Rating: PG-13
Summary: After being banished from Atlanis, a very frusterated John is about to lose his mind working for the SGC. That is, until he discovers that he doesn't know his ex-XO nearly as well as he thought.
Pairing: Sheppard/Lorne
Timeline: Set between The Return Part 1 and The Return Part 2 on Earth. Stargate SG-1 timeline: set between Company of Thieves and The Quest Part 1. I know I've played a little with the timelines here becasue during The Return SG-1 were already on Camelot, but it worked better for the fic so you'll forgive me.
Spoilers: "Enemy Mine", "Sanctuary", "Coup D'Etate", "The Return Part 1+2", "Sunday", "Outcast", "The Forth Horseman Part 2", "The Pegasus Project", "Company of Thieves", "The Quest Part 1"
Warnings: None, really. Only that Landry is not presented in the most flattering way. It's not that I have a problem with him, it's just that he's not General Hammond.
Disclaimer: Stargate and Stargate Atlantis belong to a lot of people but unfortunately none of them are me. There are also direct quotations from the series which I take no credit for.
A/N: I would like to thank the amazing Beta Enedre Drakaina, who did a wonderful job making this fic readable.

A/N 2: Oh, no. I didn't notice it but all of my paragraph breakers somehow went missing. It's fixed now, so the fic should be easier to read...

Just As Good

John stepped through the Stargate, groaned and made a beeline for the showers. He was sweaty, dirty, tired and bored out of his mind. Who would've thought that going through an alien artifact to other worlds could be boring?

It was his fourth mission this week and he hadn't run into a single Ori Prior, hadn't met any pretty alien women and had to be content with what looked like the three greenest soldiers in the galaxy… no, in two galaxies. Wallace had almost as many medical problems as Rodney had, but unlike Rodney most of them were real. John had actually started carrying an emergency kit for anaphylactic shock in case he was allergic to the air on one of the planets. Then there was Bambus, who loved plants so much that he made Dr. Parrish seem pleasant in comparison.

Add to that the fact that he still hadn't found a place to live, that all of his days and nights went by without feeling Earth's sun and that he had trouble sleeping with all the alarms and without the sound of the ocean, and John was one miserable man.

John stepped into the shower and groaned once more. At least the shower still steamed like it did in Atlantis, but that only served to remind him that he was trapped between concrete walls, that his best friend from Earth was in Nevada and that the rest of his team was in another galaxy.

He had every reason to be unhappy.

John showered with haste, wanting to leave before his new team arrived from the infirmary. Even that he was denied. In Atlantis he had a private shower and he liked to take long, steaming hot baths, enjoyed scrubbing the dirt off of himself. Now all he wanted to do was go through all the necessary steps as fast as he could in the hopes of it ending some day. In the hopes that maybe some day the Ancients would allow them back in Atlantis.

He was sitting on the bench and tying the laces on his left boot when Major Lorne walked in, expression grim and unhappy in a way John had never seen before. When he saw John his face brightened up considerably, and John found himself smiling what felt like his first smile in a week.

"Sir," Lorne greeted warmly, and John allowed that warmth to wash over him. It hadn't been that long since he felt the easy camaraderie of Atlantis, but he sorely missed it nonetheless. "Returning from off world?"

"Yeah. Had a great mission. We actually saw a rock there that Wallace doesn't have an allergy to," John replied. It was unprofessional but he was unable to keep the bitterness out of his voice. At this rate, it wouldn't be very long before Landry kicked him out but he couldn't help it.

But Lorne simply smiled. "It was probably better than mine," he said, sitting down next to John and taking off his boots. "We participated in a peace ritual. If I ever hear another flute in my life I think I'll go insane." Lorne then proceeded to change his shirt and put on a different pair of the military issue boots, a bit cleaner. "Didn't even break a sweat," he said plaintively.

John smiled without humor. He could understand that there weren't any available positions on any of the existing first contact teams, but it was unfair to put men like himself and Lorne on minor science or diplomacy teams. They were their own team leaders back on Atlantis, it wasn't like they had no experience. Hell, John himself was the equivalent of Cameron Mitchell back on Atlantis, and though none of their teams had fancy names like SG-something, John's team was the Pegasus equivalent of SG-1, and Lorne's – SG-2. It also wasn't like the entire galaxy was already explored, or team designations couldn't be changed. But no one bothered to do anything to accommodate them, and the Atlantis refugees were understandably pissed off.

"You heading for the mess, Major?" John asked instead of replying. Answering Lorne's complaints was bound to get things off his chest but John wasn't sure he would be able to stop himself if he started talking, and it would make them stay in the locker room longer and thus increase their chances of running into John's team.

Lorne looked like someone had just given him a present. "Yes, sir," he answered cheerfully, and John smiled once again.

"Then come on, before someone else comes in," he said. Back in Atlantis John never had his meals with Lorne. Usually he ate with his team or with Elizabeth, or even Carson. But Carson was working shifts in the infirmary and his schedule wasn't as flexible as John's, so they didn't get to see each other much and John missed the company.

At the beginning of the line, Lorne stopped and smiled fondly at one of the coffee pots that stood there. "Always reminds me of our office, sir," he nodded his chin at the pots, and John felt the corner of his lips lifting up in a half grin. The memories from Atlantis were still bitter-sweet, and it is hard to talk about the things you've lost.

"I could always start the old argument of whose turn it is to refill, which was yours by the way," John teased lightly, "but seeing as getting a cup of coffee into my current office would make it too crowded to be livable, I'll have to refrain," he scowled. Their office in Atlantis was actually the size of two rooms, and they each had their space within it. Whenever either of them wanted privacy they simply closed the large wall-like door, though usually they each would work on their respective sides and bicker good-naturedly about inconsequential things.

Here, John didn't even have an office. He had a small room with bare concrete walls the size of a broom closet (that also smelled like one) into which someone had managed to squeeze a table, a computer and a shelf with a dead plant on it which John kept banging his head against whenever he got up. Usually he worked from his room in the SGC's guest quarters instead of trying to get into his office.

When John and Lorne reached the serving spot and John saw what they were serving that day, he had lost his appetite completely. Lorne didn't seem too happy with his lemon chicken either, but he took it obediently from the bored guy who was serving it and went to sit at a table at the far end of the mess. John joined him, still scowling.

"Hell, right now I'd be willing to take that strange pineapple stuff we brought back from M4G-917 over this," he complained to Lorne, and Lorne looked at him, surprised.

"But you hated that stuff, sir," he said. John wasn't aware that he had told Lorne that little tidbit, but shrugged and took a forkful of whatever it was in the mixture on his plate, bravely shoveling it into his mouth.

The taste that flooded his mouth was foul and oily, and he hurried to swallow it before drinking an entire glass of water. Lorne watched him with mild concern and raised an expressive eyebrow when John finished.

"I've had enough!" John said angrily, pushing his plate away. The least the SGC could do was provided them with some normal food. John wasn't asking for the Ritz, any old American food would do. Instead he got food that was even worse than the strange alien food John had been forced to eat during his first year in Atlantis, and it was not making him feel better after his lousy mission. "Are you doing something right now?" he asked Lorne.

"No, just paperwork," Lorne answered, surprised.

"Wanna go grab something normal to eat downtown?" John asked, almost pleading. It was the end of the day and he felt that if he stayed one more second inside the mountain he'd probably kill someone. "My treat?"

Lorne laughed, getting up and motioning towards the disposal spot. "I'd love that, sir," he said earnestly, and once more there was such pleasure in his voice that John wondered why they never thought of this before. If Stackhouse wasn't off-world at the moment John would've considered asking him as well. He needed it just as much as John after going from head of security and a team leader in Atlantis to the lowest ranking man on SG-24.

"Let's go," John said energetically, his day starting to get a bit brighter. "I'd even argue with you over where in town we should go but I don't really know Colorado Springs," John added, which wasn't entirely true. He was in Colorado Springs once when he was twelve, with his father and his brother Dave. His father had invited them along on a business trip and they ate a fancy lunch at a fancy restaurant called Solomon's, but neither of them could afford that right now and John hadn't spoken to his father in a very long time.

Lorne, however, had been John's executive officer for a year and a half, and was doing fine on the job. He already knew John and was used to his antics. "I know a few places," he answered with an exasperated smile, and they were in the darkening parking lot five minutes later.

Lorne's car, it turned out, was a Honda Accord. It was efficient and reliable and suited Lorne's character, which was what John was thinking as he got into it and Lorne navigated his way through the busy city with some difficulty.

John made no comments about Lorne's driving, though usually he would have had a field day. Lorne was an accomplished pilot, John knew, and his clumsy driving would have been funny if John trusted himself to do it better. After two and a half years of controlling his vehicles with his mind, John was afraid that he was every bit as rusty as Lorne was.

They arrived at a small burger bar, where Lorne assured him they could eat real home made hamburgers with everything on. After placing their order John pointed Lorne towards a private table by the large window overlooking the highway.

The bar was nice, with worn brown leather seats and soft country music. The light was yellow and dim, a welcome change from the bright florescent light of the SGC, and the walls a faded green that had nothing to do with gray or drab. John immediately felt better and even managed to slouch in his chair for the first time in a week.

"It's nice, isn't it?" Lorne commented, amused by the joy with which John was looking around.

John smiled at him. "It is. I don't get to leave the mountain much, what with Rodney in Nevada and Carson working night shifts that usually coincide with my time off. Elizabeth doesn't answer the phone much and Teyla and Ronon…" John trailed off, not really wanting to talk about it when he was in such a nice and colorful place with soft lights and nice company.

But Lorne merely smiled. "Yeah, I know what you mean. Radek is back in the Czech Republic and the time differences are insane, and Doc Parrish was sent to the research institute in California because they have no need for more botanists here. Kinda lonely," he professed.

"So you didn't miss the life here on Earth?" John asked, but Lorne replied much later because their hamburgers arrived and they both took a huge first bite and savored it.

"Not at all. The choices are simple: a car or a Jumper? Communal showers or a private bath? Attending boring peace ceremonies or fighting the bad guys and making a difference? Being stuck as the second in command to a damn diplomacy unit or leading my own team?" the bitterness slipped into Lorne's voice and he looked up, apologetic. "Sorry, sir," he said, subdued.

John shrugged. "Call me John. I'm not your commanding officer anymore and we're off duty," he said. Lorne cast him a skeptical look. "It'd make us both feel better," John tempted, smiling one of his most charming smiles.

Lorne nodded and chuckled, a sound that was surprisingly unfamiliar. John expected to know Lorne's laughter after a year and a half of working with the man. Instead the only thing he knew was that he didn't really know the man in front of him, except that his hand-writing was more readable than John's and that he could argue Rodney down when necessary.

"Where are you from, originally?" John asked, munching on his French fries with the same delight he usually saved for turkey sandwiches and golf.

Lorne seemed surprised by the question, but answered it anyway. "San Francisco. Born and raised. You?"

"We moved around a lot. I grew up in a lot of places," John evaded the question, not really wanting to talk about his messed up life. Lorne's was more interesting. "What was it like growing up next to the Golden Gate?"

Lorne's eyes lit up, and John noted with amusement that it suited him much better than the grim lines he had seen there earlier. "It was the happiest time of my life. I grew up in a house with an older sister. My mother is an art teacher so every Sunday we would sit together and paint. My father used to take us to the market down at the bay every Friday, and we would hunt for all kinds of treasures. I even found a real Colt 1860 model once and bought it for a dollar…"

John smiled when he remembered that outing. Lorne was nice, and had numerous funny stories about his childhood in San Francisco that had John laughing for hours. They had each ordered a beer, John a Coors and Lorne a Salvator, and nursed their bottles until the owners politely asked them to leave so that they could close the place down for the night.

John clung to the memory when his team was once more investigating… he didn't really know what. He never listened during the briefings, and it didn't really matter because plants or rocks, it was all the same. They were all things he didn't really want to do.

When he reached the locker room four days after their outing, John saw Lorne once again. Lorne had been off-world since the day after their outing and was just stepping out of the steaming shower when John was about to change out of his mission gear. He couldn't help but look, because he had spent two and a half years having a private bath and needed to teach himself once more the 'do's and don'ts' of communal showers. In the mean time he saw a supple body with brown chest hair and darker pubic hair, all hard muscles and pale skin glistening with water.

John averted his gaze, thinking that the uniforms didn't do Lorne justice. He then noticed Lorne's troubled expression and quirked an eyebrow at him.

"It's nothing," Lorne said dejectedly and toweled his head with more vigor than John thought necessary for such short hair. He said nothing about John's staring.

"You sure?" John asked, because Lorne was nice enough to take him out when he was down and he would've liked to return the favor. But before Lorne could answer, the door of the locker room swung open and McCaffrey came in, smiling at John. John almost groaned aloud.

"Hi, sir," McCaffrey said cheerfully. John restrained himself and smiled back. McCaffrey wasn't a bad guy, he was just overly enthusiastic. Out of all of John's team, McCaffrey was the healthiest one and the one who had been with the SGC the longest. He kept asking John to tell him about Pegasus, not taking John's hint that he should drop the subject because it was a constant reminder of what John had just recently lost. Whenever John relented and told him about something unimportant and boring, McCaffrey would ogle at him with open amazement until John began feeling like a phony magician who managed to wow a bunch of kids with some simple quick fingers techniques.

"McCaffrey," John said by way of greeting, waiting for him to talk and then to leave so that he could talk to Lorne.

"I was wondering, sir, whether you'd like to come with us to see a movie. We're having a team night out and we thought that maybe you'd want to come too," McCaffrey told him hopefully.

That was the last thing John needed, and before his brain could catch up he blurted the first excuse that came to mind. "I'm sorry, McCaffrey, but I already have plans with Major Lorne here," he said gesturing at Lorne, who was dressing by his locker and threw John a questioning look. Lorne didn't comment or call John's bluff, and McCaffrey was disappointed.

"Oh. Well, enjoy yourself, sir," he said earnestly, eyes downcast. John smiled a false smile – not that McCaffrey could tell, none of his team could and John wanted to keep it that way – and felt like he had just kicked the kid's kitten.

"Yeah, you too. And… uh… next time, okay?" he said, somewhat uncomfortable, and McCaffrey looked cheered by that.

"Sure, sir!" he replied happily and left the room with a quick, "good evening, sir!" and a wave of his hand. John was feeling much more at ease once the door was closed and the only sound he could hear was the spray of water from the showers, where two of Lorne's new teammates were taking their time washing the dirt and dust off.

"They hero-worship you. You should've gone with them," Lorne said quietly.

"I don't want to," John deadpanned back, and Lorne was content to drop it.

"So, where are we going?" Lorne approached him, dressed in his civvies and shoving his wallet into his back pocket. He looked good in civvies, and John was sure that some of the heads that would turn after them tonight wouldn't be looking only at him.

"Actually, I got a nice recommendation for Italian from Dr. Jackson. Feel like trying it?" John asked as they left the locker room and Lorne summoned the elevator with his security card.

"Italian sounds nice. Hell, I'll even buy you the wine if you can get me out of here," Lorne replied tiredly, and when they left it was in a car John had signed out from the SGC.

They drove in silence down the dark road leading away from the mountain for at least ten minutes before John realized that Lorne wasn't about to speak and decided to ask what was wrong.

"Major Jenkins put in for a transfer, so there's a spot open on SG-12. Landry assigned Colonel Hughes, and now there's a command spot open on my team," Lorne said, voice tight with anger. John had a feeling he knew where this was going, and cringed inwardly.

"And Landry wouldn't give that spot to you," John guessed the rest, and Lorne snorted.

"No. He said that they have enough team leaders with the rank of Major," which was bullshit, they both knew, because the only restriction on command posts of SG units was holding the rank of Major and above. After that an SG unit commander was chosen based on his or hers skills and personality. "And then," Lorne smiled ruefully at John, "when I offered him that you should be given the position, Landry told me that you already have a team and are needed just where you are."

John glanced at Lorne with alarm, ignoring his own crushing disappointment at having being passed over for a better position like that. "You didn't do anything stupid after that, did you?" he asked sharply. It was in everyone's best interest to stay where they were until any news arrived from Atlantis, even if that was something John himself struggled to remember some days.

Lorne merely shook his head. "I asked to be dismissed," he said, and John was inexplicably relieved. He didn't want anyone from the expedition doing anything stupid that would cause the decision-makers to rethink their involvement in the project.

At the restaurant, John ordered lasagna and Lorne fettuccine, with the biggest bottle of Sauvignon Blanc the restaurant had. John wasn't big on white wine but Lorne seemed like he could use the alcohol and it went well with the pasta.

"You know, I remember eating something similar to this lasagna when we first arrived in the Pegasus galaxy," John said casually in an attempt to lift the mood. Surprisingly, even though the atmosphere was unhappy it wasn't oppressive.

Lorne lifted a skeptical eyebrow at him, but some of his usual humor returned to his eyes. He accepted John's invitation to have a taste of John's dish and allowed John to steal a bite from his plate in return. "You did not," Lorne challenged him calmly, just like he always did when they were back in Atlantis.

John smiled, strangely content. "No. But we did came across this strange chocolate-like thing on a planet called Proculus," he said.

"Where you dated your very first Ancient woman," Lorne was now highly amused.

"Hey, I didn't know we were counting!"

"Oh, we had an entire pool on it," Lorne replied casually, but his smirk gave him away and John kicked him lightly under the table.

"Yes, well, it didn't exactly work out," John said after a companionable silence. The food was good and Lorne was a surprisingly messy person when it came to eating pasta. John had no problems simply sitting there and watching him scowl at the fork and spoon in his hand while trying to eat with them and getting the pesto sauce everywhere but his mouth. He was going to have so much teasing material later.

"Why didn't it?"

"Uh… they have this trick, the ascended Ancients, where they can sorta reach out to you and link with you. It's like they can get to know you on the deepest level there is in ten seconds. It's cool but also… disturbing," John explained, struggling to put the thoughts into words. The entire experience was so spiritual he wasn't sure he could ever put words together to give it an apt description.

"I wish I had someone who knew me as well as that," Lorne surprised him by actually sounding wistful about it. John suddenly wondered if Lorne ever had a big relationship in his life, and was pissed that he couldn't even remember what his file said about his family status.

"It's not that I have a problem with getting to know my partner, it's just that I don't want it to be this sudden. Where's the fun in that?" John replied casually, and then had to satisfy his curiosity. "You dating someone?"

"No. Don't really have the time. I tried, before coming to Atlantis, but there's only so much you can get away with. My last date dumped me after I had to spend three weeks at the Alpha site because the SGC was under quarantine."

"And in Atlantis?"

"I haven't tried, though I could find very understanding partners there. I just never found someone I wanted to date," Lorne shrugged easily.

"So no girl ever caught your eye?" John probed once more.

Lorne shook his head, his eyes earnest. "Not really, no."

"Well, I guess we can't all be Captain Kirk, can we?" John broke away from that line of conversation. It was dangerous. Lorne had just admitted, even if in not so many words, that he wasn't into women. John knew that no sane man could hold in his sexual needs for a year and a half without fantasizing about anyone in the vicinity. And the honesty and confidence with which Lorne stated that he hadn't thought about any woman at all, without even pausing to think about it, spoke volumes to someone who could read the signs.

Lorne was unlucky that John knew how to read the signs, and lucky that John didn't really care all that much. Lorne wouldn't be the first gay friend John had ever had. "So why were you forced to spend three weeks at the Alpha site?" he asked instead, interested.

Lorne smiled at the recollection. "Someone accidentally brought back this cute little butterfly from off-world, and it turned out it only eats concrete. By the time they managed to capture it…"

John was lounging in the infirmary, watching Carson arrange medical supplies in little drawers. Lorne was off-world and John was bored. He had managed to evade his team twice more, but he was afraid that he was running out of excuses. So he was hiding in the infirmary, trusting Carson to come to his rescue.

"Three bloody weeks and I'm already going out of my mind, John," Carson complained, quietly enough not to be overheard by the nursing staff nearby.

"Why's that?" John asked, switching the light of an otoscope on and off absently.

"I have no research to do here, no medical emergencies, no nothing!" Carson hissed at him angrily. "It's not that I want people to get hurt, but this place is quieter than a bloody graveyard. I know nothing about the effects of the Ori Priors and until I do I can't really help, but there's no books or anything for me to learn from. I feel almost useless! I was actually happy when poor Sergeant Siler was electrocuted! It was horrible!" Carson was agitated, and John made soothing motions with his hands.

"It's understandable, Carson-"

"Is it? I'm a doctor, I took an oath to save lives! How could I be happy that someone was hurt!" Carson demanded, abandoning the medical equipment and storming over to the bed John was lounging in. He sat down and folded his arms over his chest anxiously.

"But you weren't happy that Siler was hurt, you were happy that you had a chance to be useful. There's a difference," John stressed, watching his unhappy friend gazing at the floor and sighing.

"Aye, I suppose you're right. It's just that I never got to sleep through the night without having nightmares or waking up when we were in Atlantis, and now I can't sleep because we're not there. It's so bloody confusing!" Carson complained, and John smiled.

"Yeah. Makes you wish they put the SGC somewhere closer to the ocean," he agreed. "Heard anything from Elizabeth?"

Carson combed his fingers through his hair and shook his head. "Nothing. She barely answers her phone, and I suspect she doesn't check her answering machine much because I've left her hundreds of messages and gotten no response," Carson said.

"Yeah, same here," John agreed. "I wanted to take her out for dinner. I was at this really nice Italian restaurant a few days ago and the food was great," John said. He wanted to see Elizabeth and the place where he and Lorne ate the last time they went out had the sort of food Elizabeth would probably like.

Carson's eyes lit with mischief. "Yes, I hear you're dating Major Lorne. I was a little offended not to be invited as well," he said, pushing his elbow into John's ribs gently.

"Dating? We're just releasing some steam together!" John exclaimed. "Besides, you're always busy whenever I want to take you out, although by your own admission you have nothing to do here so I fail to see what takes up your time," John accused.

"Ach, you know I would love nothing more than to go out and breathe some fresh air. But I can't. Even if the people here are great and everyone is nice to me I'm not my own head of department and I can't afford it," Carson said a little gloomily, and John regretted bringing it up. "But Major Lorne's a nice man. I'm happy that the two of you still keep in touch."

"You know him?"

"Aye, of course I do. Such a lovely lad he is. Always nice to everyone and always willing to give someone a hand. And he's keeping you and your team outta trouble, which says a lot if you ask me. The less bones I have to mend in your team the better," Carson said earnestly, and John quirked an eyebrow at him and refrained from correcting his slip. His team was in the past, and he didn't want to talk about it. Now all he had was SG-17's science and archeology team.

"Strange, but everyone seems to know Lorne. He was my XO, he sat in the same room with me most of the time, but I don't know him like the rest of you do," John said instead. He had never made an attempt to get to know Lorne, both because there was no need to maintain any working relationship since they weren't cut off from Earth anymore and people could be replaced, and because he was wary of getting as close to a member of the military as he had with Ford. He was the only member of the military in his former team and he was pleased with that arrangement.

"We both know you didn't spend much time in that office of yours, John. And people know him because he's a sociable young man. It's not hard to do it," Carson chided him. "Not to mention that he's a hit with the ladies. All it took was one look and a quick smile and my nurses would get him anything from anywhere."

"Yeah, well I get that he's nice. We've already had two outings and it's been real fun," John said, not mentioning his suspicions regarding Lorne's preferences. Or the unimportant fact that the sight of Lorne laughing or messily eating his pasta was what was keeping John from banging his head against the nearest rock whenever Bambus started to talk in words that have more than five syllables. He actually found himself looking forward to meeting Lorne again because meeting him meant good company, getting off the base and eating excellent food.

"Oh, you did? Twice now? Must be quite intense considering how little time we've been here," Carson returned to his medical supplies, methodically and neatly placing each one into its respective place.

"Yes. I'm thinking we might make a tradition out of it," John said, the idea coming to him in the spur of the moment. Lorne lived here before coming to Atlantis. If anyone knew the best places to hang out in Colorado Springs it was him. And it wasn't as though John had a problem catching up with him at the SGC, or canceling at the last moment.

"A tradition?"

"You can come too. I'm sure Lorne would be glad to see you as well," John said amiably.

"That's not what I meant. It's not something you can actually follow. What if something happens to you off-world? What if you run into one of those Prior things?" Carson asked.

"I'd probably die of shock," John replied dryly, and Carson broke down laughing.

"Hey!" John greeted Lorne the next time they met each other, this time in the mess. Lorne was a bit more cheerful by now, over that whole changes in command thing, and he returned John's greeting with a smile.

"Hi, how are you?" Lorne asked and gestured for John to sit with him at the table when John hesitated. Lorne was sitting with two other people, one was Colonel Edwards and the other was a person John didn't know.

John had been watching Lorne with other members of the SGC over the past few days and he seemed more at home here than John ever was. After the way Lorne reacted to their forced departure from Atlantis it was easy to forget that he had spent quite some time at the SGC prior to Pegasus. He had friends here, and John remembered Carson's words about Lorne being a sociable man and was reluctant to ask him out again for fear of taking up all of his time.

"Colonel John Sheppard, this is Colonel Martin Edwards and Lieutenant Charlie Menard," Lorne made the introductions, and John smiled at both men. They were probably former SG-11 like Lorne.

"I hope Lorne didn't give you too much trouble in Atlantis, Sheppard," Edwards said, casting a fond look at Lorne. John knew from Lorne's stories that he was the kind of commander who was loyal to his soldiers, and his gruff demeanor hid it poorly.

John smiled at Lorne as well. "Lorne? No, no trouble at all. There was the time, of course, when we thought he was dead, and a few times he nearly got fed on by the Wraith, but other than that he's been a good boy," John smiled charmingly at Lorne as Lorne looked at him, surprised and strangely flushed. Did he think John didn't remember the Genii coup or that he didn't care? John shrugged at him and turned to look back at Edwards, who was twirling a toothpick in his mouth. "But, considering the number of times I beat the crap out of him or kicked his ass around under the influence of all sorts of alien substances I'd say we're even."

Edwards chuckled and Lorne grinned, apparently recovered from his momentary surprise. "If it was up to me I'd say you still owe me," he interjected mischievously.

"It's not up to you so suck it up, Lorne," Edwards answered straightforwardly before John could, and then turned to John. "You've been going too easy on him," he stated, leaning back in his seat and sharing an amused smile with Menard.

Lorne snorted. "Oh yes, next he's going to tell you all about him making me run back and forth between our mining operation and the damn Unas' encampment during my last three days at the SGC before going to Atlantis, twenty four klicks total," Lorne complained good naturedly, and judging by the look in Menard's eyes it must have been quite a sight. John was determined to meet up with one of them later and get the details.

"What's with you, Colonel? Not feeling well?" Menard asked, indicating John's nearly empty tray. John had lost his appetite again and settled for an apple and a cup of red jello, and if he was truthful with himself the reason he didn't want to eat was because he was hoping to drag Lorne out tonight as well. Now, however, he wasn't so sure Lorne would want to go.

"Damn Pegasus galaxy probably," Edwards speculated. "Lorne's the same way. Doesn't eat at all and always talking about this strange stuff they had back there. The only thing I know about it is that it was not a kiwi," he ranted, smiling a half smile at Lorne to show his true intentions.

"You liked that kiwi stuff?" John turned to Lorne, amazed. It was passable, but nothing more. Lorne simply shrugged.

"It tasted like dulce de leche," he said defensively. Edwards and Menard actually laughed at that. Lorne had already told John that he really liked dulce de leche but apparently there was more to it than that, if his former teammates' reactions were any indication.

"Well, we should get going. Menard's wife expects him back home and I need to go off-world in thirty minutes. I'll see you two around," Edwards said, shaking both their hands and clapping Lorne on the shoulder before leaving. Menard nodded and his hand squeezed Lorne's shoulder as well, and then they were alone.

John ate the last of his jello, wishing for something better and still trying to find the right words to ask Lorne yet again to go out with him.

"Listen, the Bears are playing the Colts tonight, and I know this nice bar where they'll be playing it on a giant plasma screen. It has good beer and some nice sandwiches, even turkey if I remember correctly. You feel like coming?" Lorne asked before John could even start fumbling for a way to ask him the very same thing.

John had to smile. "I would like that," he said sincerely, and Lorne's entire face changed when he returned John's smile.

The place Lorne took him to was the sort of bar John instantly liked. It had lots of beer, quiet patrons and a huge screen where they were still playing the commercials before the game. They ordered a cab that took them there faster than either of them would have managed, and John was happy not to be driving and to be able to drink as much as he'd like.

Lorne was right. They had turkey sandwiches and they both ordered a sandwich, a bottle of Budweiser and a nice plate of fries, then settled down to watch the game.

"I wasn't much of a football fan before coming to Atlantis, you know?" Lorne confessed between big bites of his tuna sandwich.


"Yup. I like baseball and hockey better. But the guys in Atlantis were all watching it and when you hang out with them it's hard not to get caught up," Lorne explained, casting a look at the big screen to their left.

"Baseball? You like baseball better? We really need to talk about this," John said, mock serious, and Lorne grinned.

"You play golf, you really don't have the right to preach me," Lorne argued back good naturedly.

"I like golf, sure. But that's because I have a gift for it, and it'd be a shame not to take advantage of that," Lorne's snort told him exactly what Lorne thought of his gift. "Besides, you can't dislike football. It's the cornerstone of American civilization."

"So you keep telling Ronon and Teyla. Thank god they have enough common sense not to listen to you," Lorne teased, and John kicked him under the table, feigning offence.

"I could say the same thing about you, painter boy."

"I never claimed that painting was the cornerstone of any civilization, even though it is."

John looked at him wistfully. "I would like to see your paintings one of these days," he said, serious. He'd been wondering what kind of an artist Lorne was. Would he be as tidy and precise in his painting as he was with his paperwork and his command, or messy and abstract like his clumsy attempts to eat pasta?

Lorne looked at him, surprised. "Maybe one day you will. After I go down to my folk's house and retrieve them," he promised, strangely serious as well. John was about to say something more, anything at all that would suit the suddenly private and solemn atmosphere, when the broadcaster announced the start of the game. They both shifted to see it, conversation forgotten.

The bar's patrons were all cheering during the game, most of them in favor of the Colts. John watched the game as well, enjoying the nice passes and wincing along with Lorne at some of the nastier fouls. But at some point during the third quarter John started watching Lorne more than he did the game.

Lorne was focused on the game, his entire body tense and ready to leap out of his chair to cheer or jeer at the screen. His beer was already gone but his fingers were still circling his glass and John discovered that he had long fingers and short fingernails. When he returned his attention to Lorne's face it was just in time to see it draw into a frown.

"Come on, throw the yellow flag already!" he cried at the TV, lips curling on the words vehemently. He looked comfortable, like he was having a good time. When he noticed John's look, he looked down and smiled brilliantly at John before turning his attention back to the TV.

John ducked his head and ordered another bottle of beer, and downed it in three long gulps.

"Sir, did you watch the game last night?" Bambus asked John while they were threading through a rocky valley on their way back to Earth. Funny how John couldn't bring himself to refer to it as 'home'.

"Sure. Good game," John said succinctly, looking at the Stargate at the far end of the road. Yet another useless planet. John had thought he might try to negotiate a trade agreement with the villagers, just for the fun of it, but Wallace seemed like he was about to have a heart attack when John so much as sat down so John gave up on the idea.

"So I'm told, sir. You don't happen to know who won it, do you? Because I had a bet with Lieutenant Moony but my car broke down yesterday and I had to wait for the tow truck to rescue me," Bambus babbled on.

"Ah…" the truth was, John spent most of the game's last quarter watching Lorne watch the game. It was much more interesting, the way his entire face came alive whenever the Colts scored a down, or the way his hands waved at the screen whenever he thought the referee was making an error in judgment. "I had a phone call in the middle and couldn't watch the rest of the game," he lied quickly, and reminded himself to call Rodney once he got back.

"Oh, I'm sorry to hear that," Bambus said, disappointed.

"Yeah, it sucked. Listen, Bambus, once you find out who's won give me a call, will you? I'd like to know as well," John said both to pacify the man and to make the lie more believable.

"Sure, sir. Walter probably knows, we'll ask him once we're on the other side," Bambus replied easily, and John nodded at him.

"Okay, I'll come with you," John agreed.

Once he was out of the shower (the Bears had won and Bambus lost his bet) he went up to his quarters and called Rodney, who was doing something that involved explosive materials and couldn't answer the phone (unless John wanted to make a new crater in the middle of Nevada, in which case Rodney would be happy to have a nice albeit short chat with him). Dejectedly, John made his way to the infirmary.

"Sheppard!" Someone called his name and John turned around to find Mitchell walking down the hall. "How you doing?"

"As good as can be expected," John lied once again, stopping to let Mitchell catch up with him. He had liked Mitchell ever since they met when SG-1 traveled to the Pegasus galaxy to destroy that super-gate, and Mitchell looked after him as much as his duties with SG-1 allowed him to since the expedition's return. "You?"

"Well, Vala is driving me absolutely crazy because Jackson is obsessed with the Sangraal and doesn't pay her much attention. Then there's the highly detailed report I have to file with the IOA about the damn Lucian Alliance that I don't even know how to begin, Teal'c is off-world and Sam is in Washington. But other than that, fine," Mitchell said, sounding like he had never had more fun in his life, and John smiled.

"So nothing out of the ordinary then," John surmised easily. He liked talking to Mitchell, but most of the time Mitchell was a little busy saving the galaxy and stuff so they didn't see each other much. John could remember being just as busy when he had his own galaxy to save.

"Yeah, pretty much the same. My grandma used to say that routine is always good. I used to agree with her as long as she kept making me the routine Sunday macaroons," he told John, who grinned. "Oh, and of course here's another routine thing. SG-19 encountered a prior. They're like cockroaches, you just can't get rid of them. I'm just on my way to the control room to see if they need any rescuing. You com-"

But John was already jogging towards the control room. Lorne was on SG-19 and all he could think of was, be okay, Evan. Mitchell shrugged behind him and matched his pace easily.

"Are they in trouble? Were they discovered? I thought SG-19's designation was diplomatic missions," John asked Mitchell over the sound of their boots hitting the concrete floor.

"Don't know, Sheppard. Just come with me and we'll find out. Is one of your men in there?" Mitchell asked casually from behind him while John passed his security card through the elevator's slot, and John had a very strong urge to turn around and shake him.

"Lorne," John answered shortly instead, getting into the elevator that seemed to take years to finally arrive. A hand on his shoulder stopped him in mid-stride.

"I know it's hard now that you're not in command, but don't worry about them. We'll get them out of there if needs be, okay?" Mitchell told John, his blue eyes honest and his hand squeezing John's shoulder. He reached out and pressed the number 28.

John simply nodded at him, grateful. If this was Atlantis, he would be the one going out on a rescue mission. But now there was no chance in the world Landry would allow him to tag along, so he'd have to make do with Mitchell's unrealistic promise.

They reached the gate room just as a wormhole engaged, and were in time to see all the members of SG-19 flying through it and landing heavily on the metal ramp. John breathed a sigh of relief and hurried after Mitchell to help.

"Close the iris!" someone screamed, and John heard a blast that made the iris shake in its place soon after. It always made him uneasy, thinking that the only thing that protected Earth from all the nasty things in the universe was this small and fragile shield, so unlike the Atlantis one.

Lorne had landed on his back and gotten the wind knocked out of him, but other than a scratch on his cheek he looked fine, and accepted John's offered hand with bewildered happiness. "What're you doing here?"

"Got dragged by Mitchell to see what all the fuss was about," John answered smoothly, and put his arm around Lorne's shoulders when Lorne's face crumbled in pain. "You okay?"

Lorne winced and put a hand to his lower back. "We were running from the Prior and he made an attempt to blow us up when we dived back through the wormhole. I guess that the blast gave us a nasty momentum because I don't really remember entering the event horizon at such speed," Lorne winced once more. "But I don't think anything's broken." He added when John continued looking at him with concern.

"Well, let's leave that for Carson to determine," John said, helping Lorne walk slowly to the infirmary. Mitchell and two SF's were helping the rest of the team.

"Actually, it's Dr. Lam who's going to be checking us, Lieutenant Colonel Sheppard," Colonel Lewis, the new commander of SG-19, corrected him stiffly. He was being aided by Mitchell, who was leading, so he managed to throw John a chilly backwards glance.

"Yes, sir," John answered just as stiffly, hating to be reminded of Carson's position here at the SGC as well. Lorne's hand, holding John's own draped over Lorne's shoulder, squeezed his wrist in warning, and when John looked at him he shook his head minutely. Leave it be, the look in his eyes told John, and John sighed.

"You got yourself a very concerned ex-commander, Lorne," Mitchell said lightly into the loaded silence. "Ran all the way to the control room once he heard you were in trouble," he winked at John, smiling impishly.

"Really, sir?" Lorne's tone was just as sly. "I'm touched."

John snorted. "You'll get over it," he replied, not really sure of the boundaries yet. How far could you go with harmless teasing? Under John's command no one really thought twice about it but somehow with Lewis in the area and being the ranking officer amongst them, John hesitated.

Once they were in the infirmary John eased Lorne onto a bed. "It's not that bad. I was thrown around by the Wraith and suffered worse," Lorne assured John when John helped him lift his legs up.

"Weren't we all?"

"Yeah. I kinda miss the Wraith, actually. I wouldn't even mind a scuffle with the Genii as well. Anything would be better than those Priors. Crazy fundamentalists," Lorne was releasing some steam, John recognized.

"I know. They're pretty scary with all their tricks and that staff thing. It's disturbing," he agreed, watching as Lorne flicked his eyes at the privacy curtain to his left where the rest of his team was waiting to receive medical treatment. "What is it?" John asked, coming closer to Lorne.

Lorne let out a long breath. "Nothing really. Just Lewis. Doesn't really like me talking about Atlantis," Lorne said quietly, and his face once again turned grim and unhappy. John had come to hate that expression.

"What does that mean exactly?" he asked, angry. Lorne seemed reluctant to tell so John grabbed his wrist and forced him to meet John's eyes. "Evan," he said by way of warning, voice low enough not to be overheard. If Lorne was concerned over being overhead then Lewis must've given him trouble about it in the past and John was pissed off at the thought.

"Well, Hughes didn't mind me talking occasionally about it. Even found it interesting. But whenever I say something out of line Lewis reminds me that I'm not in the Pegasus galaxy anymore and that Atlantis is no longer my concern. You can imagine it's not that pleasant," Lorne said finally, heavily.

John was outraged. He turned from Lorne with every intention of walking up to that son of a bitch Lewis and giving him a piece of his mind, but Lorne's hand grabbed his shirt from behind and held tight.

"Don't do any-" a strangled scream escaped Lorne, and John stopped in his tracks immediately and turned around. Grabbing John's shirt must've caused Lorne to strain hurt muscles, and John winced at his own stupidity.

Lorne was breathing raggedly through his nose when John turned around, his mouth clamped shut so as not to make a sound, and John held his shoulders and helped him find a position that wouldn't hurt his back. "I'm sorry," he said.

"Not your fault," Lorne assured him, his voice tight.

"You okay?" John asked quietly, his hand moving up and down Lorne's arm soothingly.

Lorne opened his eyes, eyebrows still drawn together. "I will be," he said shortly. "Just don't do anything stupid, okay? I can fight my own battles," he reprimanded John, and John had to smile. It had been a very long time since Lorne reprimanded him, almost five weeks now, and he missed it despite it usually being about overdue paperwork.

"I'll tell you what. If Lam releases you today we'll watch a movie together, how about that? I have a laptop here and I still have a few movies I didn't have a chance to see in Atlantis. We can choose one and watch it together," he offered as compensation, sitting back in his chair.

Lorne closed his eyes and breathed in deeply. "If you'll give me a ride home we can watch it on a real TV and even order pizza," he replied.

"That would be great. You make sure Lam releases you and I'll take care of everything else. But no cheating! If she keeps you overnight then we'll simply postpone our plans," John warned, strangely excited about the prospect of seeing Lorne's place.

Lorne dropped his head backwards on the pillow tiredly and smiled. "The one who usually doesn't follow doctor's orders is you, John, not me," he reminded John, but whatever reply John was about to make was cut short when Lam arrived and shooed him out.

Lorne navigated John through the city, first to a pizza place and then to his place.

Lorne lived in a small apartment, tidy and impersonal. The furniture was second hand, worn but comfortable, the floor was clean and the walls were mostly bare. The only room that had a personal touch to it was Lorne's tiny bedroom, where pictures of his team, of Atlantis, of Ronon and Teyla and of his family were neatly lined up along the wall. On the bed was a colorful quilt that had an Athosian pattern to it and on Lorne's nightstand was a beautifully carved Taranian box.

Lorne was still moving a bit stiffly, but he managed to take out a few Cola cans and some blankets and pillows while John configured his DVD player and put the movie on Pause.

"You sure you're alright?" John asked Lorne for the fourth or fifth time that night once Lorne was settled comfortably on the couch. He had built a warm nest of blankets for himself on the floor by the couch and they had both been sitting for a while munching the pizza and drinking Cola while the movie started playing. But when Lorne made to lie down he groaned at the pain, and John was concerned.

"Of course I am, or Lam wouldn't have let me go home. Pass me another slice," Lorne answered easily, and John obliged and passed him a big slice of pizza with onions and extra cheese from the carton next to him. "Besides, you're here. We're watching a nice movie together and eating junk food. Who wouldn't be fine?" Lorne added between bites.

John was strangely pleased to hear Lorne say that, and sat up a bit straighter, smirking at him. "I knew you liked me," he said, full of himself.

"If I didn't, I would never have accepted your invitation that first time," Lorne replied, amused, and turned his attention back to the movie. "Now shut up, this is a good part."

An hour into the movie John glanced up and saw that Lorne had fallen asleep. John looked at his relaxed features, his tousled hair, and felt content and tired as well. Once again he asked himself why they never got to know each other while they were in Atlantis, and had to admit that the single good thing about their forced return to Earth was this second chance he had received with Lorne.

Sure, he had already established a routine and was actually getting used to working for the SGC, even if he didn't really like it. Things had begun to settle down during the course of the past four and a half weeks but Lorne's presence, along with Carson's, helped him get through the rough days. Talking to them made him feel a lot better, and expecting their next meeting helped him through the boring missions and the even more boring mission reports.

John got up, turned off the TV and covered Lorne with a blanket, hand lingering over Lorne's shoulder. It was warm and broad, and he gently tucked the edge of the blanket under it without disturbing Lorne's sleep.

It should have felt bad, using Lorne as a substitute for Rodney or Teyla and Ronon, but it didn't. Mostly because it didn't feel like a substitution at all. There was real chemistry between them, almost like the chemistry he had had with Teyla when they had first met. They were fast friends and John liked being around Lorne.

John turned off the apartment lights, leaving only the bathroom light in case either one of them got up in the middle of the night. He had no desire to return to his assigned quarters at the SGC, or leave Lorne alone and unwell. Instead he burrowed into his nest of blankets, found a comfortable position and closed his eyes, falling asleep surrounded by the faint scent of Lorne that stuck to the sheets.

John woke up when the sun crept into his eyes. At first he thought that it was weird because he was living underground and the sun never reached his room, but then he remembered that he'd crashed at Lorne's place last night.

John looked around him, blinking sleepily. The pizza cartons were still on the coffee table by their side, empty and stinking of melted cheese, and the remote control was by John's head, next to where Lorne's hand was draped over the edge of the couch touching him.

John looked at the hand that was draped across his chest carelessly, and followed it up to the couch where Lorne was still sleeping. He was now lying on his side, other hand bent under his pillow. He was breathing deeply in his sleep, and John watched his chest rise and fall slowly before he realized that Lorne's shirt had climbed up and was now exposing his shallow belly button and lightly furrowed abs.

It made John remember the day he saw Lorne in the shower and the supple body that was displayed for him there, and with a groan he buried his head back in his pillow. It had been a very long time since he had met a guy who turned him on, and even longer since he'd acted upon it, well before he and Nancy even met. And Lorne was the last guy John expected to feel something for, mostly because they had worked with each other for a year and a half and nothing had come up before now.

But Carson was right. Up until now John hadn't known Lorne at all.

Before John could think about it further Lorne's alarm clock, which Lorne had relocated into the living room from the bedroom before the movie started, went off with an unpleasant sound that echoes in the small apartment and had a good potential as an unconventional weapon. Lorne's hand, the one that was draped over John's chest, rose and blindly hit the coffee table several times before getting the alarm off.

John snickered. "So, not a morning person?" he asked, amused. He wasn't a morning person himself but watching Lorne try to steal a few more seconds of sleep was funny, and it kept him from thinking about the sudden rush of blood to his groin from before.

"No," Lorne croaked groggily, hand coming back to absently tug his shirt down and then cover his eyes from the light. "One more minute, okay?"

"Take as long as you need, but when I'm finished getting ready I'm leaving for the SGC," John threatened, and Lorne opened one blue eye to look at him tiredly.

"I'm up," he promised grudgingly, closing his eye once more. John chuckled.

"You go and have a shower, it'll help your back. In the mean time I'll prepare us some breakfast, how's that sound?" he offered generously. It was the least he could do, and it would save them time.

"Really?" Lorne sounded hopeful. "That's nice of you. We didn't even have sex last night," he joked, straightening up slowly and rubbing his aching back.

"Yes, well, I'm a nice guy," John shrugged, barely biting back the 'there's always next time'. He figured that it could have been worse. At least now Lorne wasn't under his command, and they had already established their friendship with the SGC so no eyebrows would rise if they started hanging out together more than usual.

If, of course, that was what Lorne wanted. John thought that he read the signs correctly, about Lorne's preferences, but even he wasn't infallible. But if Lorne was indeed interested, John wouldn't mind at all giving it a shot.

John helped Lorne to his feet, and when he heard the water running from the shower he began rummaging around in Lorne's neat little kitchen. He failed to see how such an organized guy could eat pasta in such a messy way, but the more he thought about it the better he liked the contradiction. It had him wondering in which other areas Lorne was this messy and dirty.

When Lorne came out of the shower and into the kitchen, dressed and groomed once more, he stopped and stared at the table with bewilderment. "This is what you call breakfast?" he asked, amazed.

John looked at the table, where two bowls with morning cereal in them, two spoons and a carton of milk were placed. "Elegant in its simplicity, don't you think?" he said proudly and Lorne chuckled, sitting down next to one of the bowls and gesturing for John to sit as well.

"I simply thought I'd be in for a real breakfast," he said, amused.

"No sex last night, remember?" John reminded him. "Besides, I helped you get home last night, I entertained you and I'm even giving you a ride to the mountain this morning," John mock scoffed.

"Yes, all out of the goodness of your heart," Lorne drawled sarcastically.

"That's right. All out of the goodness of my heart. So you don't really have the right to complain about breakfast. You even fell asleep last night during the movie!" John said haughtily, and put a spoonful of cereal into his mouth.

"I'll just have to buy you a beer after you return from off-world then, won't I?" Lorne smiled at John easily.

John thought about it for a moment. It would be a nice opportunity to test the water. Getting Lorne drunk may not be fair, but John wasn't playing fair. He was playing to win. "Yes, you will," he agreed, sending Lorne a predatory grin.

It was only the thought of getting Lorne drunk and reciprocating John's advances that got John through the long and tiresome walk back to the gate. He wondered absently how incompetent you had to be to break your ankle while falling into a brook. Who on earth would go to the edge of a gorge without testing the ground first? If Wallace hadn't broken his ankle there, John might have been tempted to stop for a lunch break by the water because the place was so beautiful.

But in the end John had to carry Wallace, who was allergic to John's aftershave it turned out, all the way back to the gate since Bambus was also bruised after losing his footing and McCaffrey had to help him along.

The gate finally disengaged behind them and John sighed irritably. Beside him Wallace moaned in pain, and John felt his patience reaching its limit. "Get your damn weight off your foot," he snapped at the hurt man. "You'll be fine."

Landry was approaching him in the gate room while an SF took John's gun and Wallace out of his hands. "Tell me you didn't engage the Ori, Colonel," Landry said sternly.

"We didn't engage the Ori, sir," John obliged, though it was a real pity. He would have preferred to face a dozen Priors than having to see any of his teammates again at the moment. "Bambus here was inspecting some curious fauna when he discovered the ground underneath him wasn't stable. He fell twenty feet into a babbling brook. Wallace there was trying to help him get back up when he lost his footing and broke his ankle." John might have laughed, if it wasn't so damn sad.

"I see," Landry seemed to be sharing his opinion on the matter, and John decided to give it one last try.

"Never thought I'd miss Rodney McKay being a member of my team," John told the General, putting all of his pent up frustration and unhappiness into the words.

"Well, chemistry doesn't happen overnight," Landry said in a final tone, and John's shoulders slumped. Message received, he was not getting transferred to another team anytime soon, if at all. "We'll debrief as soon as Wallace is out of the infirmary."

"Yes, sir," John replied dejectedly. Maybe Carson would be in the infirmary so that something good would come out of this miserable day. Lorne wasn't even around, or John would try to wring some sympathy out of him.

Just when John was about to go to the infirmary the gate started spinning, making John shiver at the alien sound even though he had already had six weeks to get used to it.

"Hold on, Colonel. You may get a kick out of this," Landry said, and at his nod John fell into step with him on their way to the control room. "This should be General O'Neill on his scheduled check-in from Atlantis."

Which was exactly what John needed to top this day, hearing how well Atlantis was doing without him. Then he registered the name Landry had said, and perked up a little. "He went back, sir?" John asked, wondering what would make O'Neill return to Atlantis and whether they needed help.

"Woolsey needed a little back-up. Apparently the Ancients find him a bit trying. Imagine that," Landry sounded as amused as John felt. Suits them right, the Ancients, John couldn't help but think gleefully. To have a taste of Woolsey before the people of Earth were forever banished from Atlantis.

John watched as the screen jumped with static interference before a video picture appeared and showed O'Neill and Woolsey standing in the control tower and smiling. John could see right away that the Ancients had made many changes from the way the expedition had organized things.

"General!" O'Neill greeted.

"General!" Landry replied.

"Is that Sheppard there with you?" O'Neill asked cheerfully.

"Yes, sir," John replied as well, interested.

"Talks are proceeding at an acceptable pace, but the real news is that the Pegasus Replicators are heading back to Atlantis to make another run at the city," Woolsey reported, and for a moment a wave of coldness swept over John. The Replicators? Damn it. He was already going through the city's defense options in his head before remembering that it was no longer his problem.

As nonchalantly as he could manage (which wasn't very), John asked, "They are?"

"No one here seems to be that worried about it," O'Neill reported, sounding a little peeved. John couldn't blame him, as it was O'Neill's ass on the line just as much as it was the Ancients'.

"Why not?" Landry asked.

"They're Ancients!" O'Neill said exasperatedly, making it sound like anything but a good thing.

"Apparently these Replicators have a law in their base code that makes it impossible for them to harm their creators," Woolsey explained.

"And they're expecting to find us," John filled in the rest.

"According to Helia, they're gonna run into some kinda nasty surprise," O'Neill promised, and John winced. He would have to talk to Landry about that, have him rethink the whole thing and re-read their mission files on the Replicators and the changes Rodney has made to their base code.

"So you can pass it on to Doctor McKay that if you and he hadn't rescued the Ancients and returned Atlantis to their care-" Woolsey started, but John was quick to cut him short.

"I'd have lost the city anyway," he completed instead of Woolsey. It was such a lovely thought.

"Right. Well, we should get back to our talks... and talks and talks," O'Neill didn't sound like he was having fun, and John could sympathize. If it was him in Atlantis right at that moment he wouldn't have wasted time talking. "O'Neill out."

As the transmission ended and the wormhole disengaged, John turned to Landry. "Sir, I'd be happy to talk to you more about these Replicator guys," he offered, trying to make it sound important. He knew that Landry was getting tired of him pushing about Atlantis.

"Nah, sounds like they've got everything under control," Landry dismissed him and walked away.

John looked after him, feeling once again useless and out of place. The Ancients were a class of their own, after all. "Yes, sir ... I guess they do," he told no one in particular.

John made a face as yet another dart missed the target and slid down the wall. He was on the phone with Rodney, at his bedroom-turned-office throwing darts and missing while listening to Rodney complain about his work.

The truth was that John was biding his time until the end of the day. He was waiting for the results of the medical examination that Carson (who finally had something useful to do and had jumped at the opportunity) was performing on Wallace. John might not like his team very much, but he had his responsibilities as team leader to make sure his men were alright.

"I don't…" Rodney faltered, and John knew he was in for a confession. He knew that tone and known that way of faltering in the middle of a sentence for a couple of years now. "I don't wanna use the term 'lonely' but, uh, there are certain people who... I miss," Rodney finally said.

"Me?" John asked, full of himself. They both knew who Rodney was talking about. He was talking about Carson and John, who were Rodney's best friends, and Teyla and Ronon. He was talking about Zelenka and Kusanagi, Esposito and Katie Brown. He was talking about the expedition.

"You? You I'm talking to on the phone right now and having dinner with tomorrow, so not so much," Rodney bristled and promptly denied. "But other people, people who I may never see again. Like, even Elizabeth. She hasn't returned any of my calls," Rodney complained, and John felt pity for him. Rodney didn't like talking much over the phone, as funny as it was. He liked to be able to express his sarcasm and contempt in person. So for him to make the effort of calling someone repeatedly meant that he really was very lonely.

"I know what you mean," John replied, though Carson promised him he's drop by Elizabeth's apartment in town. In this respect John was lucky. He had Carson and Lorne and even Stackhouse with him at the SGC, and Elizabeth had an apartment in Colorado Springs, while Rodney was completely alone in the middle of nowhere.

Rodney sighed, almost as if hearing John's thoughts. "Hey, at least you get to go off-world with a team of your own," he accused, and that was just the biggest joke in the universe.

"Oh yeah, the best and the brightest," John injected as much sarcasm into the words as he could. He checked his watch. It should have taken Carson no longer than this to be done, and John had plans for tonight. As much as he may enjoy it, after the kind of day John had had a phone conversation wasn't much of a help lifting his spirits. "Alright, see you tomorrow night," he told Rodney, reaching out and switching the speaker off just when Rodney was in the middle of his own goodbye.

"Yeah, wouldn't miss it. Hey, you know, I-"

Tomorrow they'd see each other again. It'd be fun, and John was anxiously awaiting it. But until then he had other plans. Maybe he'd even manage to drag Lorne to their meeting tomorrow too, if things went well tonight.

He went down to the infirmary and approached Carson, who was standing by Bambus' bed. Both Bambus and Wallace were wearing the infirmary issued gowns and were covered with white gauze in a variety of places. As John approached them they both lifted piteous eyes to him, and he patted Wallace's shoulder absently. "How are our patients, Doc?" John asked cheerfully.

"Bambus is covered in bruises and Wallace has a broken ankle, Colonel. Nothing much I could do about it other than put him into a cast. I'm taking them both off active duty for a few weeks," Carson told John seriously. If it wasn't for his plans for tonight and tomorrow John might have been put out at being forced to sit on his ass for the next few weeks. Instead, he was pleased that Carson's prognosis was straight forward and to the point. It meant that he could get out of the SGC faster. Later he would have time to be upset.

"That ought to teach you, Wallace. Never repeat Bambus' mistakes," John told Wallace pleasantly. He was feeling almost giddy, and Carson threw him a suspicious glance while Wallace nodded his head morosely.

"Yes, sir," he said miserably.

"Good. Listen to everything that the good doctor says and you'll both be back on your feet in no time. Have a pleasant evening everyone," John made to leave the infirmary but Carson grabbed his shoulder and dragged him to the far corner.

"You're awfully cheerful tonight, John, and it's not just because of the meeting tomorrow," Carson stated shrewdly, his eyes curious and concerned when John looked up at him.

"No I'm not," John tried to deny, but Carson's eyebrows rose in a way that made it clear that John's attempts were unsuccessful at best.

"Spill," Carson ordered. "I know you've been frustrated lately and I don't want you doing foolish things. You seem to have a tendency for it."

John was both flattered and uneasy about Carson's concern. "Look, I'm just going to Lorne's place. We'll have a few beers, cheer each other up and have some fun. Nothing foolish or dangerous," John promised, trying to placate Carson so that he could leave.

"The bloody hell it's not dangerous, John! I've heard the way you talk about him. How long have you two been at it?" Carson asked, voice cutting even though it wasn't louder than a whisper. John looked around them, alarmed. This was not the place to be having such a conversation.

"It's not like that, Carson. We didn't do anything," he said, which was entirely true.

"Then you're about to tonight, aren't you?" Carson wouldn't let go and John sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. Carson's face softened. "Look, John. It's not that I have anything against it. It's just that some of the guys here scare the crap out of me, and I wouldn't give them anything they could use against me if I were you," Carson explained, his hand coming to rest on John's shoulder.

"I know that, Carson. But-" John cut himself off, not really sure how he wanted to end that sentence. 'But now I feel like I can do relationships?' 'But I'm lonely and Lorne is good company?' 'But I want to give it a shot?' 'But I need to release steam?'

John turned his head to look at the far wall. This was why alcohol was necessary when talking about things like that. "But I want to try and do this, see where it goes," he finally said.

"Did you talk to him?" Carson asked, and John shook his head. "My god, man. If I were him, I'd kick you right up your arse," he said indignantly, before smiling indulgingly at John. "But I've seen the way he looks at you too. Maybe you really have a chance. Just try and keep it discreet, will you?"

"What do you mean the way he looks at me?" John perked up, hopeful. Carson was better with people than John was, so if anyone was paying attention to the little nuances it would be him.

Carson merely shook his head in exasperation, "Just keep it discreet and you'll be fine," he said once again, and left before John had a chance to ask him anything more.

Encouraged, John left the infirmary and headed for the surface. He was grateful that Carson didn't ask questions that required complicated answers.

John knocked on Lorne's door, and when Lorne answered it he held the two six-packs he had in his hands up as an offering and smiled broadly. Lorne returned the smile and opened the door wider, taking the packs from him and putting the bottles straight into the fridge.

"I thought it was my turn to buy the drinks," he said, pulling out two bottles of foreign beer that were already cold and popping them open deftly.

"Yeah, well. I was in the neighborhood," John shrugged it off, willingly accepting Lorne's invitation to sit on the small couch next to him where he was watching TV.

Lorne shook his head in disbelief. "Right. So, how was your day?" he asked, instead of dwelling on John's pathetic excuse.

"I've had better," John shrugged, turning to face Lorne and pressing the mute button of the remote control. The TV was playing commercials but John had no idea which channel Lorne had it set to. John's excitement has cooled off a little on the way to Lorne's apartment as he remembered that his day was lousy and that Lorne hadn't even said yes to John yet, but Lorne seemed pleased with his company and didn't mind the intrusion at all so John dived in. "Wallace broke his ankle," he started, and Lorne sat up straighter.

"Is he alright?" Lorne asked, concerned.

"He's fine. He and Bambus decided to take a tumble into this sweet little babbling brook," John summarized the incident, and Lorne turned his head away, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. John smacked his arm lightly. "Laugh all you want, you weren't the one who had to carry him three klicks to the Stargate," he scoffed at him, and popped open the two new bottles that Lorne had just brought from the kitchen, handing Lorne one and taking a sip from the other.

Lorne smiled openly. "I'll bet that's the best mission you've had in a month," he challenged John, who couldn't disagree. True, it'd sucked that both Wallace and Bambus were hurt and that John and McCaffrey had to carry them back to the gate. It also annoyed him to no end that they could be so clumsy as to fall down and break something while on enemy territory, but it also reminded him of rescue missions he used to pull back in Atlantis. This, and not science and botany, was his field of expertise and he missed it.

"See, I was right, wasn't I?" Lorne asked, smug. Now it was John's turn to hide a smile.

"At any rate," he became serious once again, "after we got back, Woolsey and O'Neill gated in and reported from Atlantis," he told Lorne, who became attentive and somber in seconds.

"O'Neill? I thought it was only Woolsey. Are they-" But John knew what Lorne was about to ask and stopped him.

"No. They're not letting us back. Apparently the almighty Ancients needed some help in dealing with Woolsey, so the IOA sent General O'Neill," John corrected him. "But that wasn't all. O'Neill and Woolsey reported that there are Replicator ships on their way to Atlantis."

Lorne looked at John for a long moment, taking this all in. Then he took a long swig from his beer and sat further back on the couch. "And they expect to find us and are going to be in for one hell of a surprise," he surmised eventually. "What are the Ancients gonna do?"

John felt his lip curl. "They're going to sit on their superior asses and let them come," John replied. Lorne looked at him, disbelieving.

"What! Why! They must know who they're dealing with! They created them!" he raged, eyebrows drawing down and hands gesturing agitatedly. "I mean, the very fact that they're attacking Atlantis of their own accord should make the Ancients rethink that whole superiority bullshit of theirs!"

It was actually kind of nice to see Lorne so worked up over the whole thing.

"Yes, well, Landry wouldn't listen. I can only hope for the best," John said, finishing his second bottle. "We should never have offered them a ride," he added sullenly, and Lorne grinned weakly at him while nodding his agreement.

Lorne brought some more beer from the kitchen and took a new bottle, handing John another one as well. They were the bottles that John had bought, six of his favorite brand and six of Lorne's. "Here's to Atlantis, safe from harm. And to us, going back as soon as possible," he offered a toast.

John sat closer to him on the couch and clicked his bottle with Lorne's. "I'll drink to that," Lorne agreed.

Two hours later John and Lorne were working towards their fifth bottle each, and John was pleasantly sated and relaxed. Lorne made him laugh when he insisted that they put the bottles in a row with their labels facing them, showing that he was organized even when drunk, and John in return told Lorne all of his bad jokes that no one in his right mind would have ever laughed at and won an attentive audience.

They talked about many things, from Lorne's first experiences in Atlantis to the number of times John had escaped Vala by the skin of his teeth, and John was starting to feel that the time had come. He didn't want Lorne wasted, though Lorne seemed careful to keep his alcohol level to relaxed and sated as well. John should've known he would be the responsible type of drunk.

"What's your type?" John asked out of the blue, after Lorne returned from a trip to the bathroom.

Lorne raised an eyebrow and smiled. "Why? You going to fix me up with someone?" he asked, amused, and dropped down on the couch further away than John would've liked.

"And if I am?" John replied casually.

"I probably wouldn't like her, whoever she is," Lorne shrugged carelessly. He trailed his finger idly through the condensation on his almost finished bottle and watched the little droplets of water clinging to his digits. John figured that it was as relaxed as he would ever get Lorne to be, so he pushed on.

"Which is why I'm asking what your type is," John insisted. Lorne sighed, wiping his damp hand on his shirt.

"Fine. Uh… funny, I guess. Sexy. Confident. Understanding. Smart… is that enough?" Lorne slowly listed the traits he was looking for, each on a different finger.

"You forgot to mention male," John added daringly, watching Lorne carefully out of the corner of his eye.

Lorne's body had gone rigid on the couch next to John's and his eyes were suddenly sharp and not at all tipsy. "What?" he asked slowly, voice guarded. "Who have you been talking to?"

John regarded him warily. So much for the alcohol plan. Funny how he could pull off hurried half-assed plans to save the entire galaxy with dazzling success but still fail with the simple guaranteed-to-work get-your-date-drunk one. "Only with you and Carson," he told Lorne the truth. He could see how Lorne's sharp mind connected the dots.

"So you knew all this time and you didn't care?" Lorne asked him incredulously. He didn't try to deny John's words, for which John gave him full marks. No point in beating around the bush.

John shrugged. "Not exactly." He couldn't say he didn't care because he cared a lot, right at that moment. He knew he could be the type of guy Lorne was looking for, now after hearing him describe it. Or at least, he knew he wanted to be.

Lorne studied him for a time before he smiled. "No, you do care. You want to set me up with yourself, don't you?" he stated, surprising John. Now John wished he hadn't drunk all that beer, and lowered his eyes to escape Lorne's penetrating blue gaze.

"Evan, I-" he stopped and cleared his throat, still unsure of what to say to justify himself. "Only if you want to as well," he said eventually.

Lorne sat back on the couch, more relaxed. There was a long silence between the two of them, and John was afraid that he might have been overconfident.

"It's not that I don't want you," Lorne said finally. "I mean, who wouldn't?" he laughed nervously, but it died fast. "I just always assumed that if you would ever be into someone on Atlantis it would be either Teyla or Dr. Weir. Never thought you'd swing the wrong way too."

John smiled a humorless smile back at him. "Yes, well… that train has already gone hasn't it? And I'm bi and usually prefer women," he admitted. It wasn't something he hadn't thought about, but the more he worked with both Teyla and Elizabeth the more it became clear to him that it could never really happen. The special relationship he had with each of them prevented anything from going in that direction.

"Dr. Weir is still around," Lorne said, as if suggesting that John hadn't missed the opportunity yet.

John looked at him, irritated. "I don't want Elizabeth, Evan. I want you," he stressed, looking into Lorne's eyes to get his point across. To his surprise, Lorne smiled.

"Well I'm here, John. All you have to do is come and take me," he invited, sliding to sit closer to John and spreading his hands as if presenting himself. The innuendo also didn't escape John's notice, and was made intentionally, judging by Lorne's cheeky smile.

John raised an eyebrow, surprised once again. He hadn't expected it to be this easy. "You sure that this is what you want?" John asked, his hand resting cautiously on Lorne's knee.

Lorne covered John's hand with his own and squeezed gently. "I'm not drunk, if that's what you think. And you're not the only one who feels this way, either," he confessed, voice sure and direct and eyes honest.

"Good," John managed to say, slowly closing the gap between them. "That's good," his voice had gone low and a flare of passion raced down his belly.

John was leaning in and Lorne was closing the gap, slowly and almost teasing. Lorne's eyes became darker and his mouth opened, usually pale lips suddenly red and shining with saliva. John's hand crept around Lorne's hip and his other around Lorne's shoulder, bringing him closer, and then…

…and then Lorne's home phone started ringing.

John and Lorne both froze and pulled back a little, and John waited for Lorne to make a move. It was his phone and his choice whether to answer it.

"Ignore it," Lorne simply looked annoyed at the interruption, and with the same decisiveness with which he had offered himself to John, he turned back. His hands came up to hold John's shoulders once again and he rearranged himself on the couch so that he was nearly in John's lap.

John smiled, smug at making Lorne this impatient for his kiss that he would ignore the phone ringing. He closed the distance between them, his hand coming up to comb through Lorne's short hair, and managed to get the barest sensation of softness and warmth on his lips before Lorne's cell phone began to ring.

Lorne pulled back and hung his head, exhaling exasperatedly. John could understand him, but he thought that one phone after the other ringing at this time of night wasn't simply a friend calling for some small talk.

"You should probably get that," he told Lorne, pulling his hands back to rest over his knees. Lorne nodded, irritated, and padded over to where his cell was bleeping on the top of the TV.

"Lorne," Lorne snapped into the phone. John sat back and enjoyed the view of his rear in worn jeans, and as if Lorne sensed that this was exactly what he was doing he moved his hand over his own ass and sent John a sexy smile.

"What?" the grin disappeared and Lorne's playfulness ebbed away. "I'm coming. Yeah, have Stevens bring my equipment to the gate room."

As soon as John heard that he got up and went to stand where Lorne was still listening to his phone. Something was up at the SGC and they called Lorne, John was obviously concerned.

"Twenty minutes and I'm there," Lorne said and hung up the call. He then turned to John, who looked at him questioningly, and sighed. "One of our off-world allies was just visited by a Prior and now they've all got the Prior plague. We have the cure but Dr. Lam needs someone to escort her to the planet and apparently SG-19 is the only team currently not out of commission or off-world," Lorne sighed once more, fingers pinching the bridge of his nose and eyes squeezing shut for a second.

"So you need to go," John was equally unhappy about it. Of course it would be too good to be true. When was anything in his life this easy? Just when he got through his half assed confession and got an eager Lorne in return, this happened.

"Yes, I do. Can you call a cab for me? The number's by the phone," Lorne asked, already on his way to the bedroom. He came back again just as John hung up with the cab company, dressed in green BDU's and a green jacket with Earth's and SG-19's patches on the shoulders.

"You sure you don't want me to drop you off?" John asked in a vein attempt to steal a few more minutes with Lorne, but Lorne shook his head.

"We've both had too much alcohol to drive. I know that neither of us is drunk but I don't want to get involved with the police right now, so thanks but no," he shook his head, walking into the kitchen.

John followed him and refused a bottle of water when Lorne took one for himself. "You want to come back with me in the cab or you want to stay here and return in the morning?" he asked John. Lately John had actively refused to try and find an apartment in town like the rest of the SGC personnel did, both because he was used to being close to Stargate Operations and because staying at the SGC was as close as he could be to Atlantis at the moment and he still refused to let that go.

But John really had no desire to be anywhere close to the SGC at the moment. He might have offered to accompany Lorne on the mission if he hadn't known that Landry would never agree and besides, he had plans for tomorrow night. Plans that Lorne now wouldn't be able to participate in. "No, if it's alright with you I'll stay here," he said, looking at Lorne for permission.

Lorne nodded at him, and was just opening his mouth to say something when the cab John had ordered honked from the street. Lorne looked frustrated.

"We'll talk about everything later, okay?" he said, and without waiting for an answer walked up to John, pressed a firm kiss to his lips and then walked out of the door, leaving his apartment keys on the kitchen table.

John stared at the closed door and listened until the sound of the cab's accelerator was too faint to hear, his lips tingling and his mood completely ruined. It wasn't even a proper kiss, just a quick press of warm lips and a faint taste of beer and minty toothpaste.

Dejectedly, he collected the bottles and tidied up the living room before walking to Lorne's bedroom and getting into bed. All he wanted was for this awful day to be over, and the next best thing to having Lorne in his arms was lying in Lorne's bed where the pillow smelt like Lorne's aftershave and shampoo.

There was always tomorrow.

The night after Lorne's departure John took Rodney, Carson and Elizabeth to the Italian restaurant he'd been to with him, and they all agreed that the food was great. Earlier, when John met Carson in the parking lot, both going to pick someone up, Carson put a hand on his shoulder and smiled ruefully. He had still been in the infirmary when Lorne embarked and he'd guessed that John's plan suffered an unexpected setback, but John pushed the matter out of his mind and insisted that they were going to have a good time with their friends, all of them dressed up and relaxed, without thinking of depressing things.

They talked about their projects and their lives, Carson saying nothing about his uselessness, John saying nothing about Lorne and Elizabeth saying nothing about her difficulties in coping with their banishment from Atlantis. They allowed Rodney to ramble on about everything he wanted and smiled at each other because it felt so nice to hear him complaining in person once more that none of them had the heart to stop him.

As they ordered dessert Rodney brought up Katie Brown, who was in Australia, and the discussion moved to the romantic lives of the Expedition's senior staff and the unfortunate lack thereof.

"You should call her," John told Carson around a mouthful of apple pie after Elizabeth asked what happened to Laura Cadman. Rodney hummed his agreement over the rim of his hot chocolate.

"Who, Cadman?"

"You guys did make a cute couple," Elizabeth said mischievously, taking a bite out of her lemon tart, though John couldn't help but notice that she didn't eat much and left a lot on the plate. Carson smiled apologetically at her.

"It didn't work out," he didn't sound disappointed. "May have something to do with our first kiss being through Rodney," he teased, and Rodney sat up straighter in indignation.

"I thought we made a solemn vow never to speak of that again!" he cried at them, grimacing. John and Carson exchanged amused looks.

"I remember no such thing," Carson told him amiably, and John nodded along. After all, Rodney wouldn't let go of that whole Iratus bug hickey John had suffered on their third mission either.

Elizabeth smiled. "You know what? It's getting late," she surprised John by saying.

"Since when do you sleep?" he asked, suspicious. Elizabeth had more energy than a ZPM, she was never tired.

"Since I got back. I've got a lot of catching up to do," she replied, which John was sure was an excuse. Carson had told him that Elizabeth wasn't taking their return to Earth well but John was at a loss as to what he could do. Elizabeth put a hand on Carson's arm and smiled. "But it's been lovely seeing all of you again. Thank you for getting me out," she said warmly.

"No, we should thank you. You're taking us to dinner, right?" John tried to keep her there, having been used to ending a night out much later than this with Lorne.

Elizabeth smiled, amused. "Cheeky," she admonished him, but he simply smiled back at her charmingly until she nodded her head.

John's mobile suddenly began ringing, ruining John's lazy mood. He looked at the number, and when he saw NORAD on the display cold worry griped his chest and he wondered what had gone wrong and whether anyone was injured. The North American Aerospace Defense Command, which resided just above the SGC, provided the SGC with all the cover-up needed for the outside world and he couldn't help but think about Lorne.

As John answered with a brisk, "Sheppard", Rodney's phone went off as well, and while he fumbled with his Elizabeth's Blackberry came to life. John didn't need the person on the other side of the line to tell him that they were needed at the SGC and that something had happened. The fact that all three of them were contacted simultaneously told him that there was trouble in Atlantis.

John stood on the balcony of his office, allowing the breeze to play with his unruly hair. It had been two days since they retook the city and General O'Neill prevented them all from getting blown up by Caldwell before taking a Jumper back to the SGC. Elizabeth was fretting about the changes the Ancients made (apparently what the expedition considered as storage rooms were actually the most important offices and vice versa, which John found weird). Rodney was walking around the city drunk with happiness and cradling schematics for the three ZPM's that the Ancients (or the Replicators) installed in Atlantis and Teyla and Ronon was busy transferring their stuff back from New Athos.

It was good to be back, and a tension John hadn't realized existed in his body suddenly ebbed away and he felt more comfortable and was sleeping better at night. All the senior staff had been allowed to come back and none of the Generals threatening to fire John actually went through with it. Things were almost perfect.

Almost, because there was still one matter that needed to be resolved.

"I thought I'd find you here," Lorne's voice said from behind him, and John turned around and smiled his most brilliant smile at him.

"How are you?" John asked as Lorne came to stand with him on the balcony, putting his hands on the rail and imitating John's posture.

Lorne inhaled the salty ocean air deeply. "Now that I'm back? Very good. Add to that the fact that I didn't break any ribs when Ronon hugged me and that I don't have that Prior plague myself and I'm simply doing excellent," he told John, and John flashed him a guilty smile. He had completely forgotten about that whole plague thing with all that had been going on in Atlantis. "You? I hear you mounted quite a rescue operation while I was gone. How did it go?"

John smirked at him smugly. "You should've seen it. Rodney outdid himself with that plan, though don't tell him I said so or his ego would submerge the city again," John joked. "But other than the fact that two completely different Generals fired me within a ten hour timeframe and that I had a hand in my head it went very well," he told Lorne, and Lorne smiled.

"Fired you? That's not the impression I got from General O'Neill and General Landry when they briefed me about the matter," Lorne said.

"Yeah, might have something to do with us saving O'Neill's ass when Landry wanted to nuke it," John shrugged, wondering when the main issue would arise and trying to postpone it as much as possible. It wasn't that he hadn't made up his mind, he had. It was just that he was never good at expressing his emotions and he felt clumsy and full of clichés whenever he was forced to. "The men settling back in?"

Lorne turned to look at the city, leaning with his back against the rail. "Yes. I have never seen Zelenka running as fast as he did when McKay told him that we now have three brand new, fully charged ZPM's, or any of my men so happy when they were presented with a broom and cleaning instructions," Lorne marveled.

"Yeah. A lot of Replicator chips everywhere," John said gleefully. There were perks to being the ranking military officer, like not having to clean your own mess up after you. The number of Replicators that were destroyed when the shield went up was so big that he was actually feeling pity for his men. "So I take it the first Jumper was packed full," he inquired. Lorne raised an eyebrow at him but humored him and went on with the inane conversation, apparently waiting for John to make the first move.

"To the point of putting a strain on the life support system, sir. There was almost a brawl over who got to come back first so we squeezed as many people in as we could. It was pure luck that it took Dr. Lee too long to destroy Midway station like Landry ordered him, or we would've had to wait six weeks before we could return. Stackhouse is now flying the next shuttle," he answered, tone professional.

John knew that Lorne was a good soldier. He knew that if he never brought up what happened between the two of them the night Lorne was recalled to the SGC, then neither would Lorne. He would carry on being John's XO and a team leader, and not a word would be said about the matter ever again.

But John couldn't get Lorne's face out of his head, his voice saying 'you're not the only one who feels this way' or his wistful eyes as he confessed 'I wish I had someone who knows me as well as that'. But it was because of Lorne's professionalism that John hesitated. What he was about to suggest was a galaxy away from professional, and he wasn't sure Lorne would consent. Things had changed between them now.

"Listen, Evan," John turned to look at Lorne, whose blue eyes were neutral and fixed on him. "About what we started talking about the last time we met…" John felt the familiar prickling on his nape whenever he started talking about emotions and rubbed his hand through his hair. Lorne didn't say a word, simply listened attentively, so John continued. "I don't want to stop at that," he said, wincing. It didn't sound very good but he couldn't really do better at the moment.

Lorne looked at him with an unreadable expression but remained silent, and John had a feeling he was expecting more.

John looked at the city before he returned his eyes to Lorne. "Look," he said, taking a deep breath. "I know that I have a reputation for breaking the rules but-" he gave Lorne a humorless half smile, taking another deep breath. "But this isn't simply a rush of adrenalin or just easy sex or something. It's-" once again he cut himself off and looked at the Ancient door of the balcony, at anything other than Lorne's undecipherable eyes.

"It's just not," John finished lamely, wincing and looking down at the Ancient floor. He was sure that Lorne had heard better, and when Lorne didn't say anything he was beginning to fear that he really had screwed this up with his awkward fumbling or even the mere offer of picking up where they had left off.

A hand cupped his cheek and John looked up into smiling blue eyes. "I had no intention of letting you off the hook that easily, John," Lorne said, voice and eyes honest and fond. His other hand came to rest on John's hip and John's hands instinctively rose up as well.

"You didn't?" John asked, both pleasantly surprised and angry. "So I was spilling my guts out without a reason?" He was irritated that Lorne let him babble on about stupid things when the matter was already settled, and if he was honest with himself he was angry because Lorne had made him this uncertain, and because Lorne's words made him feel an unimaginable rush of relief and happiness.

"Not without a reason. I said I wasn't going to let you off the hook that easily. I had no idea what you'd do. The circumstances have changed. We both have a lot more to lose and we're breaking a lot more rules than we were before," Lorne explained, his hand on John's cheek straying down to curl around John's nape. He made to close the gap between them but John shook his head.

"No. Now it's your turn to tell me how you would've convinced me," he told Lorne, feeling mean and enjoying it as Lorne looked at him, utterly shocked. "Suits you right for making me tie myself in knots like that," John told him unrepentedly.

Apparently Lorne really did know him because he simply nodded and smiled in fond exasperation, head dropping to John's shoulder as he chuckled. "I should've known," he mumbled into John's shirt, and then raised his head, amused. "Okay. First I was going to remind you that it was you who wanted me and seemed pretty adamant about it. Then I was going to remind you that the kind of chemistry we have together doesn't happen every day and that I'm not willing to pass that up, not when I can have everything I had ever wanted," he explained, hands going around John's back and body leaning forward to press deliciously close to John's during his speech.

John smiled a devilish smile at him and deliberately brought his right hand to cup Lorne's ass, making Lorne jump a little and buck against him. "And then?" he asked teasingly, smug at Lorne's last words.

"And then!" Lorne asked, incredulous. "And then let me kiss you already!" he demanded, and his hand rose back to John's nape and brought John down to meet his lips in a forceful kiss.

John was used to risking everything, his position, his reputation and even his life, for a higher cause. Usually he would risk everything to save Atlantis or the lives of his teammates. But as his hand curled in Lorne's hair and he angled his head so that he could deepen the kiss and finally taste him, John realized for the first time in his life that risking everything for his own happiness felt just as good.