Dr. Kate Heightmeyer was dead.
Major Evan Lorne stood outside of Kate's door and stared forlornly. His jaw quivered as he searched his memory, trying to understand the dream he'd had the other day—Sheppard was a replicator and he'd held a gun on the man he'd shared a bed with for almost two years now. He barely remembered the dream, but he'd watched the security video and it haunted him. What if he hadn't been sleepwalking? What if he'd been in his quarters and Sheppard had been next to him in bed? What if Lorne had killed him there? The need to act had been powerful, and he could have hurt the man he loved. But at least the dream didn't kill him. Kate wasn't so lucky.
With the quarantine and the severity of his own response to the alien possession, Evan hadn't found out about her until he'd gotten hold of the situation report. The only reason he'd looked up the report was so that he wouldn't be blindsided when he talked to Kate about his concerns.
I can't believe she's dead. Grief overwhelmed him. Wrapping his arms around his stomach, Evan sank to the floor, sitting outside her door. If this had happened on Earth, people would have left flowers, cards, and stupid teddy bears by the door. Maybe he could go to the botany lab and find a flower for Kate.
"Did you have an appointment?" Major Amber Trippett asked, sitting next to him.
Evan checked his watch and nodded. It didn't surprise Evan that Amber had found him here. She was one of the few people who knew he came to see Kate—and who knew why. Amber put her arm around his shoulder and leaned her head against his.
"Should I call Sheppard?" she asked. The offer stung so badly that he cringed and pulled away from her.
"No," Evan growled bitterly, wiping his nose with the back of his hand. "We're not together anymore."
"I still don't get why that is," she said, scooting next to him again, hugging him tightly across the shoulders.
Evan sighed and shrugged. Even he didn't fully understand why his former lover was avoiding him so fiercely. "Dr. Weir's death hit him pretty hard."
"It hit all of us hard," Amber snapped, her cheeks burning red.
"He loved her," Evan shrugged, his teeth chattering as he remembered the way he'd pleaded with John not to leave him. It was humiliating, frustrating, and heart-breaking. "He would have done anything to save her, and he pretty much had to make a decision to pull the plug. Then McKay went behind his back with the nanite thing, and then to lose her again to the Replicators… He'll come around."
"When things settle down, right?" Amber said tartly. "That's bullshit, Evan. If you want to be together, be together, and if you don't, move on."
A tear rolled down Evan's cheek, and he turned his face to wipe it on her sleeve. "That's what Kate said. Well, not in those words." He clenched his stomach, fighting back a wave of grief. "She helped me understand so much. I had so many questions left to ask her."
He pulled a paper out of his shirt pocket, unfolded it, and tried to read the words, but his vision was too blurred by tears. Some of these questions he'd had on this list for weeks, but he'd taken for granted the fact that Kate would be around for a long time. "She didn't have all the answers, but she helped me find them."
"I'm still here for you, babe," Amber said, nuzzling his neck and kissing his chin. "You can talk to me."
First Beckett, then Weir. John handled a lot of fallen marines and airmen, but that was different somehow. They understood the danger of the situation. Losing civilians was awful, and losing friends… The number of times McKay had come to the brink of death just from the daily Atlantis grind was astounding. Now that John had met Jeannie, he could not imagine delivering her the news of her brother's death. But at least she would have had the clearance to know and understand why her brother died. Evan's family didn't have that. John didn't know Evan's family—didn't know if they'd care one way or the other how he died.
Every now and then, John thought of crawling back to Evan, staying on his knees, and begging forgiveness. He always talked himself out of it. Then Heightmeyer died. John saw it affected Teyla and realized how selfish he'd been. John hadn't thought twice about Kate Heightmeyer's death, but Teyla was torn up about it. Evan must have been in hell since he'd found out. If he'd found out.
John was walking with Teyla to Kate's quarters, but he froze when he saw Evan and Amber sitting there, talking. He knew he had no right to be jealous, but his stomach twisted in knots when Evan smiled weakly and gave Amber a platonic peck on the cheek. They were close friends, and though John knew there was nothing behind it, it still made his ears burn.
"Kissing girls? I really broke you, didn't I?" John sneered, his voice catching in his throat. He didn't mean to be cruel, and Teyla's tightening grip on his arm served as a severe reprimand.
Evan lifted his head just long enough to glare. His eyes were red and his face was wet. John wanted to fall down next to his former lover and hold him tight, but it would only feel like pity. It was pity. Evan didn't want him back after what he'd done.
"Wanna go inside?" John offered, a little more diplomatically.
"Colonel Carter locked this room," Amber spoke up, moving protectively between John and Evan. The way Evan averted his eyes and stayed behind her spoke volumes about how difficult it was just to keep his composure.
"I can fix that," John said, trying to catch Evan's eye as he put in the override code on the lock.
"John, are you sure that's wise?" Teyla asked.
"It's not like she had a contagious disease or anything," John shrugged. "We're just going in to say good-bye."
The door opened and for a minute, none of them moved. Evan was the first to push past the others, and he went straight for the couch. There weren't a whole lot of options as far as sitting went, and John wasn't about to take Kate's chair, so he sat on the couch next to Evan and squirmed awkwardly. His ex-lover hardly seemed to notice. Teyla and Amber joined them, sitting on the outsides, forcing John and Evan to scoot closer together.
Cautiously, John took Evan's hand. Evan's wrist turned and John thought he was pulling away, but then Evan squeezed his hand hard. Tipping his head back against the couch, Evan stared at the ceiling and did his best to keep quiet while tears streamed down his cheeks. John leaned his head against the couch, concentrating on the feel of Evan's hand in his. There was so much strength in that connection and John had ruined it. First Elizabeth, now this?
"Elizabeth is my friend. You are so much more. If it were you in there, I'd be falling to pieces," John said.
Evan chuckled slightly and massaged John's shoulders. "You are falling to pieces, baby. I'm pretty cracked myself. But it takes less strength for you to hold me together than to hold yourself together. So why don't you hold me together, and I'll hold you together. Then we'll both be okay."
For someone who had never been in a serious relationship before, Evan was wise in matters of the heart.
"Why her?" Evan moaned. "Why couldn't it have killed me?"
"Or me?" Teyla asked. "The creature was malicious, Evan. There will never be any sense in her death."
Evan shuddered and squeezed John's hand again. "I wonder how she died. What dream did it kill her with?"
"Don't go down this road," Amber warned, patting Evan's arm.
"I wonder if I'm the one that killed her," John said thickly. "In her dream, I mean. If she died wondering why I had turned on her."
Evan squeezed his hand and turned sympathetically. Evan's eyes were bloodshot and his skin sallow.
"When was the last time you slept?" John challenged, eying him critically. Evan turned his head.
"Not since that creature was in him," Amber said disapprovingly.
"Evan!" John cried.
Evan jerked his hand free and crossed his arms defensively. "I thought you didn't want to care about me anymore."
"I was distraught. I was being an idiot," John said. This wasn't the begging speech he'd prepared.
"You still are," Amber pointed out.
"Thank you, Major."
"You're welcome, Colonel," she returned icily. John liked that she wasn't afraid to take attitude with him, at least in this matter. "I have additional intel on the subject if—"
"Amber!" Evan hissed, looking betrayed.
"It's okay, babe. I got this," Amber assured.
"I'd rather you didn't," Evan said.
"Perhaps we could leave the two of you alone," Teyla suggested, looking more conniving and less distraught than she had when she'd talked John into coming. John's eyes widened and he stared at the two women.
"Are you two conspiring to—"
"Ahem," Colonel Carter said, clearing her throat disapprovingly. Amber and Evan leaped to attention; it was one of the hazards of having a military officer in charge of Atlantis. John stood more slowly, but only because he'd be staring at Lorne's ass if he stayed seated.
"I sealed this room," Carter said reprovingly.
"We were just saying goodbye," John said quickly.
"It's my fault, ma'am. I—" Evan choked and covered his mouth. He made a few more attempts, but couldn't finish the sentence and maintain composure. Amber rubbed his arm consolingly, which only made it worse. His military training was too ingrained for him to leave without being dismissed, but Carter wasn't in a merciful mood. John didn't give a lick about military protocol when it came to Evan. Keeping his eyes on Carter, John pulled Evan into a hug. John had broken things off with Evan before Carter ever came on board, so she'd never known the two of them as a couple. Few people had. Evan tensed predictably, but then he clung to Sheppard like a life raft and broke into sobs.
"Majors, Teyla, will you excuse us. I'd like to speak to Colonel Sheppard," Carter said, glaring daggers at John. Teyla nodded politely and left, watching John for a signal that they weren't in trouble. John nodded suavely, smirking lightly. Amber hung back, brushing hair from Evan's face, trying to get him to hold onto her. Peeling Evan off of John was going to be a challenge, but after a few minutes, the sobs finally quieted. Carter watched the whole thing, more curious than annoyed.
John tilted his head back to see, but he felt the change easily enough. There was a certain way Evan rested his cheek over John's heart that always put him to sleep. "He fell asleep on his feet," John explained to Carter.
"Then wake him."
"Please, Colonel. He hasn't slept in days," Amber pleaded.
"Major, you were dismissed," John reminded her, so that Carter wouldn't have to.
"Yes, sir," Amber said, stiffening. Then she nodded to Carter and walked out of the room obediently.
Wake him? It seemed wrong to do anything but put Evan to bed. Carefully, John maneuvered Evan back to the couch and they sat awkwardly, Lorne's cheek staying plastered to John's heart.
"It's okay," John interrupted, pretending like he wasn't violating orders. "He'll sleep through anything right now."
Carter rolled her eyes, but accepted that Evan wasn't leaving. "When I lock a door, I expect you to honor that."
"Yeah. With the four of us sitting in the hall, it was kind of a fire hazard," John shrugged. He understood why she was pissed, and he didn't have a good excuse. The four of them could have accomplished just as much sitting in the hall.
"Do I need to remove Major Lorne from active duty?"
"God no," John cried quickly. "That's the worst thing you can do for him right now. Kate would have told you as much."
Carter nodded. As a military person, she understood the kind of therapy a P-90 offered. "Were the two of them in an intimate relationship?"
"No. Just a therapist-patient relationship," John said, chuckling lightly. "But it was pretty intense for him."
"There was nothing in his file to suggest—"
"That's because the shit she helped him through happened before he ever joined the military," John said, stroking Evan's hair absently. Then he remembered that Carter didn't know about them, and probably should never find out, and he stopped. "There was no hell we could put him through that matched what… what… It's a private matter."
Carter raised her eyebrows and crossed her arms. "Are the two of you in a relationship?"
"I only know as much as I do because we're friends," John said, avoiding the question. "If I hadn't told Kate what little bits and pieces he told me, she'd never have been able to help him. You have no idea the burdens he shared with her, and the things he put on her shoulders. He's taking all that weight back on himself now. Amber and I don't know the half of it, but we can help. Just give us a chance."
"Colonel, there are rules about relationships with subordinate officers," Carter pressed.
"I'm aware of those rules," John said carefully, extracting himself and lying Evan on the couch. Technically, he and Evan were no longer in a relationship, and it was best to keep it that way. "I was just helping a friend get some sleep."
"And I ordered you to wake him and send him back to his quarters," Carter said.
John hesitated, looking from Evan to Carter.
Rolling her eyes and crossing her arms, Carter said, "You're dismissed Colonel."
Evan shivered and tensed, his mind whirring as he woke up in the unfamiliar space. The scent of this place hit him a fraction of a second later, and he couldn't figure out why he'd be sleeping in therapy. He knew Kate wouldn't hypnotize him. Wiping the drool from his mouth, he turned his heavy head, wishing he could just pull a blanket over his shoulders and go back to sleep.
"Kate, I'm sorry, I…" He trailed off when he saw Colonel Carter sitting in Kate's chair and the reality flooded back. Moaning, he buried his face in his hands. "Oh, God."
"Major Lorne," Carter greeted, her tone even and expectant.
"Yes, ma'am," he said, forcing himself to sit up. He smoothed his clothes, feeling uncomfortable and confused. "What happened?"
"You fell asleep," she said. She didn't have Dr. Weir's concerned motherly tone, but she wasn't angry at the disrespect either. "I understand you haven't been sleeping well."
"No, ma'am," Evan said, rubbing his face, then raking his hands through his hair.
"See Dr. Keller and get some rest," Carter ordered.
"I don't need a prescription," Evan said, jumping to his feet to prove he wasn't lost. "I just came here to clear my head. Kate was very important to me."
Carter nodded toward the door, directing Evan into the hall, and sealed the door behind him.
"Sheppard said something about your family," Carter opened, leading the way down the hall. Evan nodded, not volunteering any more information. When they got to the transporter, she pressed the indicator to get to his quarters rather than the control room, and Evan's pride deflated; she was walking him home.
"You and Sheppard are very close."
Evan nodded again, feeling his face get tight. He did not like where this was going.
"Major, are you involved in a romantic relationship with Colonel Sheppard?"
Evan gasped, hoping his alarm came off as surprise. He'd deflected questions like this before Sheppard, and now that he was single again, he'd be deflecting questions like this again. "No, ma'am. I'm not involved in a romantic relationship with Sheppard or any other person on Atlantis at the moment. Is there a reason you ask?"
"You know the military forbids interdepartmental fraternization, especially between a commander and subordinate," Carter continued, one eyebrow raised.
"You and Colonel Sheppard seemed… very comfortable touching each other," Carter pressed, looking uncomfortable at having to force the issue. Lorne smiled, knowing exactly how to play on that discomfort.
"I apologize," he said sweetly. "I intended to grieve more privately, but all my friends knew to find me there. Kate was… she helped—I trusted her."
They arrived at Evan's quarters and Carter opened the door, leading the way inside, like she didn't trust him to go in on his own. Evan smelled Sheppard instantly and glanced around for the other man, hoping he was hidden. Carter gave the place a suspicious look as well, but seemed satisfied that the place was empty.
"I'll get some sleep, ma'am," Evan promised, motioning her toward the door, glad he had a reason to kick her out. "I apologize for breaking into Dr. Heightmeyer's office."
Carter nodded again, her suspicious look dissolving into a sympathetic smile. "I'll forgive you this time, Major. Get some rest," she said, patting him on the shoulder in a way that reminded him of Dr. Weir. His emotions welled, and Evan clutched his chest to keep the grief from overflowing. Forcing a chastised smile, he closed the door behind Carter, locked it, and counted to ten.
"John? She's gone," he said quietly, still resting one hand on the door. What little strength he'd gained from the catnap was already gone.
"How did you know I was here?" John complained, wriggling out from under the bed and brushing the dust bunnies from his shirt.
"Because your smell is one of the things I've missed about you," Evan said with a wistful grin, pulling pieces of lint from Sheppard's hair, then embracing him and inhaling loudly. John molded naturally to Evan's body, his face nestling against Evan's neck. The moment held so much peace, it made it easy to forget that the pain of separation was self-inflicted.
"I don't really smell, do I?" John asked, his words sending vibrations through Evan's skin.
"You don't smell bad," Evan teased. It was adorable how shy and self-conscious John got about little things like that.
"Can you forgive me for being a total jackass and trying to cut you out of my life?" John asked, squeezing Evan hard, not willing to take no for an answer.
"It's probably better you did. I got a lecture from Colonel Carter just now," Lorne sighed. He always figured he'd come running whenever Sheppard whistled, but now that he'd gotten a lecture from Carter, all he could remember was how frustrating it was having secret relationships. It wasn't the sex he'd missed so much as the friendship, and there was nothing against the rules about hugging a CO.
"Come on," John ribbed, pulling out of the hug, linking elbows with Evan, and guiding him to the bed. "I got that lecture from Elizabeth at least once a week. I told her I wouldn't be any more compromised if it was her life or yours on the line."
John suddenly choked up and his gaze turned inward. His clammy hands closed around Evan's arm with a different kind of sadness and desperation. "She's out there, Evan, and I can't get to her."
"I know, baby," Evan said, squeezing Sheppard's hand encouragingly. He kept thinking he should do more—offer a hug or a kiss on the cheek. Things were muddled now that they weren't lovers.
"Do you realize that the first three people who knew about us are dead?" John said, sinking onto the bed, his grip on Lorne going slack. "Beckett? Weir? Heightmeyer? Who's next?"
Evan sat next to him, pulling Sheppard into a hug, even though it couldn't change the truth. The notion made him shake inside—maybe this was the damnation his grandmother had warned him that he'd bring on the world. Now that Kate was dead, it was harder to fight his family's abusive words.
"Do you think Colonel Carter said all that because she had to, or would she really transfer us both out of Atlantis?" Evan asked, his head spinning. Maybe it would be better to leave Sheppard and remove temptation. Maybe it would be safer.
"I don't want to risk it," John said, squirming nervously. "We have to keep it quiet."
"It'll be too obvious. Our friends will know, just from seeing us happy," Evan said. As scared as he felt, he didn't want to let go.
"Keller's going to figure it out the same way Beckett did," John said.
"I don't want to steal a few months and have it blow up in our faces," Evan said quickly. "We should just tell her."
"You worked with her at SGC. You know he better than I do," Sheppard said, looking at Evan with more vulnerability and fear than Evan ever remembered seeing before.
"I don't think she'd sympathize," Evan said, getting tenser by the moment. "She's been in love with General O'Neill for years. She even married him in a few alternate universes."
John nodded uncertainly, then laid his head on Evan's chest. Hugging Evan hard, John sniffled loudly, then sobbed silently. It was all John could do to muffle his shaky breathing, and he couldn't hide the hot tears splashing onto Evan's shirt.
"What is it?" Evan asked, concerned.
"I am so in love with you. I can't believe I tried to leave you," John said, fighting for composure, then letting go again. The last few months had been hell, and they fought so hard to keep it together in public. It was nice knowing they didn't have to hide the brokenness from each other anymore.
"It's already forgiven, baby," Evan said, brushing his hands through Sheppard's hair, not caring that his fingers would smell like hair gel later.
"You lost a friend. I'm supposed to be holding you together," John said, his voice cracking.
Evan laughed, hugging his lover. "You are, baby. You don't even know how much you are."