blue flamingos

Life in Three Dimensions

Fandom: Stargate Atlantis/Stargate SG1

Category/Rated: Threesome, NC-17

Year/Length: 2008/ ~8523 words

Pairing: Sheppard/Mitchell/Lorne

Spoilers: major spoilers for SGA The Return parts I & II, no major SG1 spoilers

Disclaimer: No, I don't own them, for which I should think they're profoundly grateful.

Summary: Strange things happen on Earth, especially around Lieutenant Colonel flyboys

Author's Notes: For [info]14valentines Day 6: Motherhood

Beta: by [info]domtheknight and [info]dracotelitha

Feedback: Yes please. Even if it's bad. Especially if it's bad.

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Lorne knows Colonel Mitchell about as well as he knew Colonel Sheppard when he got sent off to another galaxy with the man. Slightly better, actually, since he met Mitchell once, for about ten minutes. Mitchell was at the alpha site for a training exercise in the 302s and Lorne was routed through there with his team because everyone thought they'd been exposed to something they shouldn't have been on M9F 872, which turned out to actually be the effects of spending two days in a small cave with Richardson and his cold.

He's pretty sure Mitchell doesn't even remember it happening, which is fair enough, since Lorne didn't remember Mitchell being there either until he saw the Colonel on SG1's visit to Atlantis.

All of which is completely irrelevant, since it doesn't help to answer Lorne's most pressing question, which is: why is he sitting in a dark booth in a dark bar at 2214 on a Friday, opposite Colonels Mitchell and Sheppard, at Mitchell's invitation?

Or, actually, the even-more-pressing-than-the-most-pressing question: why is he still sitting in this booth, in this bar, on this evening, opposite these two people, when Mitchell has his hand on a part of Sheppard's anatomy that it shouldn't be on in public, and Sheppard is making no move to remove it, and both of them are looking at him like they think he knows that the hell this is all about, when actually he's halfway to believing he slipped into a parallel universe somewhere between the bar and the booth?

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Earth, Lorne thinks when he's been back there for a week, completely sucks. Which is not at all a suitable thing for an officer in the US Air Force, and a member of the SGC, to be thinking about his own planet, but he doesn't care, because Earth is an underground base that no-one knows about, Earth is being rotated through teams to "find the best fit", Earth is no puddlejumper flights, no botany babble, no only-half-mocking arguments between his two marines about who could take whom in a fight, no city in the middle of the ocean.

Earth, in other words, sucks. It sucks even more that he's not allowed to work with any of the other members of the expedition, and that his office is three floors away from Sheppard's, tucked between a hippie sociologist who scares him a little bit, and an air force captain who's never home.

Of all the things he thought he'd miss about Atlantis, the people were obviously pretty high on the list (right after the jumpers, because like every other pilot, he has a mildly obsessive attachment to them), but it was "people" in a general sense, "people" as in everybody, the group. Not "people" as in specific members of that group, but apparently he should have drawn up his list more carefully, because the thing he misses most, sitting in his office and wondering how he can have so much paperwork to do when he's only been in the galaxy for three days, is Sheppard being right next door and liable to drop in with a random question whenever he got bored.

It's a lot harder to make these things seem spontaneous when he has to trek down six corridors and three flights of stairs to get to Sheppard's new office, and he suspects Sheppard feels the same, since the only contact he has with the Colonel now is when Sheppard gets on the phone and suggests they meet in the mess for lunch.

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"Come on," Mitchell wheedles, leaning in Lorne's doorway the way Sheppard does, making Lorne wonder which of them picked it up from the other, or who they knew that they both picked it up from. "Fresh air's good for you, you know. Helps you grow."

Lorne gives him a mild glare, because not everyone can be tall and lean and – and he's not going there. "I think it's too late for me," he says mildly.

"It's never too late," Mitchell says with a grin, like he's maybe not quite talking about getting taller. "Sheppard's coming," he adds, and this time an eyebrow goes up, which is another tic they both have, one that means they think what they've said is a persuasive argument.

Irritatingly, Mitchell also has Sheppard's habit of being right about these things.

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Lorne didn't know Sheppard well when he went back to Atlantis with the man, and it took a while for that to change, what with consciousness transferals, and drugged-up lieutenants, and Sheppard's tendency to spend as much of his off time as possible with his team.

Of course, one thing Atlantis was good for was forcing you to spend time with people, as Lorne discovered when the city, as far as he could tell from the engineers babbling in his headset, decided that it had strong objections to Lorne and Sheppard visiting the space they were hoping to turn into a second gym for the Marines, and chose to express those objections by locking them into it.

Sheppard shrugged, folded his jacket up, and lay down with his head on the makeshift pillow, closing his eyes.

"Sir, shouldn't we –" Lorne started, still standing near the doors.

Sheppard cracked one eye open. "McKay and his team could do this in their sleep," he said easily. "Relax and let them do their thing. And you can stop saying sir all the time whenever you want."

Lorne curbed the automatic urge to respond with yes sir – it wasn't the first time they'd had that exchange, and he was getting the impression it was rapidly edging past mildly annoying in an amusing kind of way, and into somewhat more annoying in a not-at-all amusing sort of way. "This kind of thing happen a lot?" he asked.

Sheppard raised one hand slightly to make a see-sawing gesture. "Pretty often. Of course, it's usually because something deadly got loose, but I'm sure we're fine."

"That's reassuring," Lorne said dryly. Unfortunately for Sheppard, he knew science teams pretty well, and the scientists on the radio sounded more pissed than worried.

"Yeah," Sheppard said, sounding like he might be falling asleep, though his body gave him away, still showing all the tension it did when he was wide awake. Lorne had no idea why Sheppard did things like that, like the way he played down what he understood from the science teams, and the way he seemed not to care that everyone knew how close he'd come to not being allowed back. "You can sit down," Sheppard said, his eyes still closed.

Lorne complied, sitting cross-legged a few feet from Sheppard's feet. He looked odd from that viewpoint, everything slightly out of proportion, though that didn't really change the essential Sheppardness of how he looked. Lorne could imagine his mom looking at Sheppard, though she hadn't been all that keen on portraits, and nodding, tilting her head to one side like she did when she found an interesting subject. He'd be beautiful in charcoal, she'd say. He's all lines and shadows.

Lorne shook his head. He shouldn't be thinking that his CO was beautiful, even if he did only mean – mostly mean – it as an artist.

"So," Sheppard said, sitting up. "How do you like Pegasus so far? Other than being trapped in a gym?"

It took the engineers an hour and a half to get them out. Lorne wouldn't have said he actually knew anything new about Sheppard by then, but he felt like he knew him better anyway.

It was possible that the lingering mental image of him, laid out on the floor feigning sleep, helped with that impression.

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Spending an evening in a bar with Sheppard, or Sheppard and Mitchell, becomes a semi-regular thing pretty quickly. They don't talk about Atlantis, and they can't talk about their missions, not in public, so they talk about normal things, or at least what Lorne half-remembers as normal things: football, the food in the mess, planes they've flown, the elderly lady in Mitchell's apartment block who thinks he's a spy (Mitchell doesn't know where she got the idea, but she's apparently pretty married to it). Sometimes, when it's just Lorne and Sheppard, they talk around the people from Atlantis, so Lorne knows that McKay visits Sheppard, and calls him a lot (and that Sheppard wishes he wouldn't, because it's easier not to miss him then – Sheppard's very drunk when he says this, and even then he doesn't so much say it as imply it. Lorne pretends it never happened, though he's fairly sure Sheppard remembers).

They don't talk about how neither Sheppard nor Lorne have moved out of the mountain yet, or how Landry is planning on giving the gene therapy to everyone in the SGC in order to get test pilots for the jumper (Lorne wonders if it's because he thinks the Atlanteans would hijack it and try to fly home, but he doesn't want to hear the answer, so he only wonders in his head).

It's okay. It's normal, or as normal as things can be when your day job involves stepping through wormholes to other worlds.

Until, between one minute and the next, it's not.

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Lorne swallows. Both his hands curl up until he forces them flat again, suddenly hyper-conscious of where he puts them. "Maybe I should go," he suggests, not surprised when his voice comes out a little strained. It's one thing that his social life consists of two abnormally attractive Air Force lieutenant colonels, or that he's just about got past calling them both sir outside the mountain, or even that it hasn't escaped his notice that sometimes Sheppard goes out for the evening and gets a ride into work with Mitchell the next morning.

It's another thing entirely to see evidence of what he's sort of wondered.

Sheppard shrugs, a lazy shifting of his shoulders that brushes his bare forearm against Mitchell's. "Finish your drink," he says easily.

Clearly Sheppard is intent on reprising his usual who-me-I-don't-know-anything role, and isn't going to give Lorne any damn clue to what's going on. He looks to Mitchell instead, who still has his hand on Sheppard's – well, maybe Sheppard's thigh, maybe not any higher – and is looking at Lorne from the corner of his eye, his face turned towards Sheppard. His expression isn't a great deal of help either.

He knows this isn't something that's going to come back on him in the future, that neither Sheppard nor Mitchell will do anything that might damage his career; it's possibly the only thing allowing him to dial down the tension enough to actually feel the arousal curling in his stomach. That doesn't help him know what he's being offered, if he's being offered anything, and his hands are unpleasantly sweaty.

"It's getting late," he says, and that makes both of them look at him.

"It's quarter past ten," Mitchell says, his tone clearly implying that the night, whatever it involves, is barely getting started.

Lorne opens his mouth to make an excuse about an early mission, having to be back on base first thing in the morning, and Sheppard says, "Just because I don't approve it, doesn't mean I don't look at the mission schedule," which shoots that argument down.

He and Mitchell look – Lorne doesn't know. Comfortable, like this is something they came up with together, and it shouldn't make him feel excluded, but it does. Apparently, there's more of a difference than he would have thought between knowing something and seeing evidence of it and... And he's never admitting it out loud, but somewhere between getting locked in a gym with him and getting thrown out of their city, he started thinking of Sheppard as belonging to him in some way.

"I have paperwork," he says, just a little bit desperate.

It shouldn't be possible, because neither of them were moving, but both Sheppard and Mitchell go very still. "Lorne –" Sheppard says softly, and that's as much oddness as Lorne can take in one evening.

"I'll see you on Monday," he says, pushing out of the booth and biting off the sir that nearly slips out, because it's not the most inappropriate thing he could possibly say, but it's close.

The air's cold when he steps out of the bar, chilling his over-heated skin enough that he wishes he'd brought a warmer jacket when they came out. They're well out of the main streets of Colorado Springs, so he's going to have to call a cab and wait and –

And the door opens behind him and he doesn't even need to look to know it's almost certainly Mitchell, because this is not a conversation he and Sheppard can have and they both know it.

Mitchell stands next to him, shoves his hands into his pockets, and stares at the almost full parking lot. The breeze picks up, bringing a few bars of music drifting from the bar, not enough for Lorne to identify the song. He kind of likes this bar, with its noticeable lack of SGC personnel and a juke box that plays songs he actually recognizes.

"So," Mitchell drawls, just when Lorne's starting to wonder if he'll have to be the one to break the silence. "Not that I don't enjoy freezing my ass off outside a perfectly good bar, but you want to explain what's going on?"

It's all Lorne can do not to stare at him with the same drop-jawed look that Parrish got when he found out Stackhouse's team had been to a planet with sentient roses and not brought back a sample. "What?" he says finally.

Mitchell half-turns to look at him. "It's your decision," he says, like this is going to help make things make sense. "But I thought you wanted – and I know John does, and he knows you much better than I do, so..."

It's kind of rude, especially when Mitchell's senior to him, but Lorne half-raises one hand to make him stop, just for a second. "That was an offer," he says, stunned by the realization that he was *right*, so it's not exactly a question, but Mitchell seems to take it as one anyway, because he grabs Lorne's arm and pushes him against the building and *kisses* him, hard and careless, like they're not on a public street where anyone could see them.

"I see you went for the direct route after all," Sheppard says, his voice bright with amusement, somewhere off to Lorne's left.

Mitchell pulls back slowly, grinning. The hand that's not still wrapped round Lorne's arm, a single patch of heat that Lorne can't wholly drag his attention away from, drifts out slightly, like he's stopping himself from reaching for Sheppard. "It worked," he says, still looking at Lorne, who nods, too shaken – too turned-on – to actually put together a sentence in response.

"True," Sheppard says, then, "Want to get out of here?"

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With the kind of good timing that they never had in Pegasus, a cab full of impossibly young seeming men pulls up before anyone has to start looking for their cell phone; even so, it's possibly the most awkward cab ride Lorne's ever taken, all three of them looking at their hands, at the dark streets, and very carefully not directly at each other, even with the tension ratcheting up until Lorne's nerves feel like they're burning with it.

It gets worse once they're inside Mitchell's neat apartment. Lorne's been there half a dozen times over the last three weeks, but the itchy someone-else's-house feeling is back like he's never set eyes on the place before, and he's starting to think that this isn't anywhere near as good an idea as it seemed back outside the bar, the lingering feel of Mitchell's mouth on his, and Sheppard close enough to touch – open enough to touch, like he never was on Atlantis.

"This is ridiculous," Sheppard says abruptly, and hooks an arm round Mitchell's neck, pulling him close to kiss him, slow and easy, and Lorne knows, if he hadn't before, that they've done this – that they've been doing this. Only this time the realization doesn't come with a sting of jealousy, but with an ache of wanting to touch. He hasn't been with anybody since before he left Earth, accepting early on that he wanted someone he couldn't have, and that trying to have anyone else would be unfair to him and the hypothetical other person, and end in the kind of disaster that he couldn't afford in Atlantis' tiny community.

"Hey," Sheppard says, his voice gone low and warm again as he reaches for Lorne, dragging him close with one hand on his back, the other still on Mitchell's shoulder. He sounds good like that, a sharp contrast to the adrenaline-edged almost-panic that Lorne's used to, and then he stops thinking about it because Sheppard's mouth is pressing against his, his hand sliding under Lorne's shirt, cool against his lower back, and Mitchell's holding them both.

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They stutter again when they get into Mitchell's bedroom, lit by the streetlights through the open curtains. Lorne stops to take his boots off, and when he looks up, Mitchell's lying in the center of the bed, down to nothing but black boxers, his eyes closed. Sheppard's somewhere in the shadows, but Lorne doesn't bother looking for him; he can't take his eyes off Mitchell, utterly relaxed, even his hands open and loose beside him. He'd thought Sheppard was gorgeous, has always thought Sheppard is gorgeous, but Mitchell is something else – a different kind of attractive, maybe, or just unfamiliar.

"Whatever you want," Mitchell says, opening his eyes and looking straight at Lorne. "Though fewer clothes might be a start."

Lorne ignores that last part in favor of kneeling on the bed by Mitchell's hip and running one finger over his collar-bone, the sharp angle of his shoulder and the curve of definition in his arm, then back up, tracing the dip of his throat and the line of his neck, round his jaw and over his cheek, and down again, Mitchell's skin warm under his fingers, like his fading tan is still holding some of its heat.

"Hey," Sheppard says, a moment before his hand grazes Lorne's shoulder, the sensation of light, cool fingers dulled by his shirt. "He's right, you know – fewer clothes would be a good start." The bed dips slightly as Sheppard sits down behind him, hands sliding under Lorne's t-shirt to push it up and off.

"Yeah, better," Mitchell says, his eyes intent on Sheppard's hand where it's stroking a line just above the waistband of Lorne's jeans. It feels good, the way being touched like that almost always feels good, except it's Sheppard, which he still hasn't managed to wrap his head around, and he wants both to lean back into Sheppard and to lean away, frozen between the two impulses.

As it turns out, he doesn't have to choose, because Mitchell sits up, one hand on Lorne's thigh and the other on Sheppard, somewhere behind him, and kisses Lorne, nothing like the way he did at the bar, careful but intense, teeth scraping against his lower lip. He's easier than Sheppard, which isn't exactly a surprise, easier to touch and kiss back, without the weight of a year and a half of shared history and command structures, and Lorne lets himself sink into it; Mitchell's body under his hands, Sheppard pressed against his back, the scattered moments to catch his breath when Mitchell pulls away to kiss Sheppard, his hair tickling Lorne's ear when he does it.

He's uncomfortably hard in his jeans, every inch of his exposed skin sensitized from too much touch, too soon, and when someone's hand – he's not sure whose – reaches down to stroke him through the denim, he can't bite back the groan. It's worth it for Mitchell's low laugh, though he seriously thinks about reprising that opinion when the hand goes away again.

He blinks his eyes open, trying to remember when he closed them, to find Mitchell looking at something over his shoulder – Sheppard, he realizes, but it's not a look that says anything, it's just Mitchell looking because he wants to, and Lorne can't blame him. He's wanted to look enough times, he just hasn't had the chance. Now he has it, he's going to take it, so he shifts as well as he can, trapped between the other two, and gets a hand on Sheppard's cheek so he can kiss him.

It's an awkward angle, so the kiss is kind of sloppy and off-center, but Sheppard doesn't seem to object, dropping his hand back – because now it's there again, Lorne knows it was him the first time – to Lorne's cock, not moving, just pressing there. Lorne's hips jerk upwards without him thinking about it, but he wants, God, he wants to be touched, to touch in return and he has no idea how to go about getting it. He's not in control of this.

Apparently, Mitchell is. Lorne feels his hand creeping across his thigh like the sensation is a thousand miles away, coming through the cloud of Sheppard's mouth on his, then Sheppard's hand is nudged away, and Mitchell eases Lorne's zipper down. "Take these off," he says in Lorne's ear. "Take them off and I'll blow you."

Lorne gasps, pulling away from Sheppard, who's watching them with dark eyes and an expression Lorne can't read at all. It clears before he can really try, and Sheppard shrugs. "I'd do like he says," he offers idly, but his unmistakable shift in position and the quickly aborted move of his own hand say that he's not as relaxed about this as he's making out.

It makes Lorne feel better, to know he's not the only one who's halfway to freaking out, though it does nothing for the way his legs aren't quite steady when he stands up.

Mitchell immediately reaches across the space he's made, both hands on Sheppard's shoulders, twisting and pushing him down till he's on his back, half under Mitchell. Any comfort they might have with each other is gone now, their hands skating over each other's bodies, Mitchell shoving at Sheppard's jeans, the two of them panting between almost frantic kisses. It's searingly hot, the kind of hot that would never belong in porn because they're so obviously into each other, and Lorne has a front row seat, his jeans discarded, his erection obvious through his boxers if anyone was looking.

They're not – he's clearly been forgotten, but it doesn't feel weird or awkward, like he would have expected if he'd thought about it; it feels like he's been let into something that no-one else will be.

Of course, that doesn't mean it isn't a hundred times better when Mitchell pulls away from Sheppard, says, "Wait, wait," and pulls Lorne down into a tangle of legs and arms and skin, so much skin that he's reminded all over again of just exactly how long he's been celibate. With his eyes closed again, against his will but powerless to stop it, he can't tell who's touching him, who he's touching, only that they are, groans and gasps and stuttering breathing, and everything lights up when he comes, like nothing else on this world or any other.

After, no-one moves, and Lorne's certainly not inclined to be the one who does first. Even if he wanted to, which he doesn't, he feels like every bone in his body has melted into over-boiled spaghetti, and anyway, he's not sure where his left hand has gone.

"Well," Mitchell says after a while, sounding like he's still catching his breath.

Lorne waits for something to follow that, but nothing does, and, despite knowing it's probably a bad idea, he gradually slides from awake to asleep.

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He wakes up to fading disorientation and the certain knowledge that something woke him.

Mitchell, he realizes; it was Mitchell scrambling out of bed, must have been, because, when he slits his eyes open just far enough that no-one will notice, Mitchell's dragging his boxers on with one hand, the other wrapped round Sheppard's arm, holding him in place. Sheppard's not moving, but he's back in his jeans, though they're not, Lorne sees in the gray, early morning light, zipped up, and Lorne's memory supplies Mitchell's voice saying, "John?" then, "Wait."

"Wait," he says again, lowering his voice. Lorne keeps very still, fighting the instinctive urge to get up and leave, and hopes they'll think he's still asleep. "Where are you going?"

"Back to the mountain," Sheppard says. He's obviously trying to sound casual, but there's a familiar strain underlying his words, the sort that Lorne recognizes from missions that have gone really wrong. "It looks suspicious for us to be out all night."

"And you sneaking back in at whatever the hell time it is now will look less suspicious?" Mitchell's back is to Lorne, and Sheppard's head is down, but Mitchell hasn't moved, his whole body turned to Sheppard. "I know you hate doing it, but talk to me."

The silence stretches, sharp and fragile, like one word will shatter it. "John," Mitchell says, leaning into him. His arm moves slightly, maybe shaking Sheppard. Lorne knows that feeling. "Give me a clue, at least. Is it about last night?"

Sheppard shakes his head before Lorne has time to feel more than a flicker of worry in the pit of his stomach. He's already not looking forward to the morning, and he can't imagine it being made easier by Sheppard deciding he wishes it hadn't happened. "No," Sheppard says, but his voice is less sure than his nod was.

"That's not the most convincing denial I've ever heard," Mitchell says dryly, and Sheppard just folds. There's no other word for the way his shoulders slump and his free hand clutches at Mitchell's arm, and it's nothing Lorne would ever have expected to see from Sheppard, who doesn't break for anything. Except Cameron Mitchell, apparently.

"I woke up," he says, his voice rough. If there was any noise at all in the apartment, Lorne knows he wouldn't be able to make out any words. "I woke up, and I thought that I shouldn't have done this. That chain of command was fucked enough before." He takes a loud, shuddery breath. "And I –"

"Remembered that you're here," Mitchell says softly.

Sheppard nods, his whole body tilting until he's leaning his forehead against Mitchell's shoulder, neither of them saying a word. He shouldn't be seeing this – he doesn't *want* to be seeing this, because, like everyone else from Atlantis, he needs to believe that this isn't forever, and Sheppard, in that moment, looks like nothing more than a man who's resigned to living out his life on Earth, and hates it.

He closes his eyes, but it takes him a long time to fall back asleep. He doesn't hear Sheppard and Mitchell move.

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"Morning," Mitchell says, when Lorne wakes up again to the smell of coffee and the familiar sensation of someone watching him. "Sleep well?"

Lorne rubs his eyes and tries to shake off the thick feeling that comes from not getting enough sleep. Mitchell's sitting, legs stretched out in front of him and crossed at the ankles, against the footboard of the bed, a mug of coffee in one hand, watching him with a half-smile.

It takes him a few seconds – Mitchell, it turns out, is no less distracting in jeans and a gray t-shirt than he is in nothing at all, especially now Lorne *knows* how he looks in nothing at all – but he finally concludes that the only appropriate answer to that question, in this situation, is, "What?"

Mitchell shrugs. "My momma raised me to be polite to my guests," he says, and Lorne just raises an eyebrow. He's stupidly pleased when Mitchell grins, obviously getting the joke. "Worth a shot. You okay?"

Lorne sits up; even if he has to have it naked, he doesn't have to have this conversation lying down. Or something. He's still not awake enough to deal with complex concepts. "Sheppard?"

"Gone for a run," Mitchell says with a shrug. "He'll be back in a bit." He doesn't sound like he's trying to imply, without saying it, that Sheppard's freaked out and run away, so Lorne relaxes.

"Okay." Mitchell's still looking at him, waiting for an answer to his question, and Lorne doesn't have one yet.

"I can go stand in the kitchen so you can slink out and pretend this never happened, if you like," Mitchell offers lightly, but there's something under it, a thread of suspicion that this is what he wants, and Lorne may not have quite got his head round the whole thing yet, but he definitely doesn't want that.

"I'd rather you stood in the kitchen and assured me you had more coffee," he says, then steals Mitchell's own mug when Mitchell leans forward to kiss him.

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They're both fully dressed, sitting at the kitchen table with the paper divided up between them, when Sheppard thumps through the door, sweaty and slightly breathless. He stops when he sees Lorne, and blinks, then smiles slowly and says, "Morning."

"Enjoy your run?" Lorne asks. The whole thing is so domestic, so established, that it unnerves him a little; except that they've had this exact exchange on Atlantis a dozen times before, and, all right, it's never come after he had sex with Sheppard and Sheppard's sort-of boyfriend, but the memory is a little reassuring. Like maybe this isn't, compared to everything else in his life over the last few years, as weird as it seems.

"Yeah." Sheppard wanders behind Mitchell, running his fingers through his hair as he does, to grab a bottle of water from the fridge. His fingers, when he trails them across the back of Lorne's neck, are cool and damp. "Going to take a shower," he says, wandering out, and when he comes back, he suggests they go do something with their day off from saving the galaxy.

Lorne keeps waiting for a hint that he should go, but one never comes, and he doesn't want to offer, so he's still there when Mitchell says, at half past midnight, "Okay, I'm beat, I'm going to bed," and even then no-one suggests he might get a cab and go back to the mountain, so he doesn't.

The next day, they ride into the SGC together, and go their separate ways, and somehow, everything he might have wanted to say, or ask, has been said, or answered, without anyone saying anything at all.

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As far as Lorne's concerned, Sheppard and Mitchell have their thing, and he's been invited into it for what seems to be an indefinite period of time; the thing between the two of them exists alongside the thing between the three of them, or within it, or something, but Lorne's only involvement is as one of three.

Apparently, he's the only one who got that memo.

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He and Sheppard can't quite get over the eighteen months they've had playing different roles.

It's not that they don't try, for the three day period that SG1 is off-world, Sheppard leaning in Lorne's office doorway and saying, "Come for a drink," as he has a half dozen times in the last four weeks. There's nothing in the way he says it, but it sounds different this time, like he's asking for something more.

"Sure," Lorne says, hoping he doesn't sound as nervous as he feels.

Sheppard shuffles his feet a little, then says, "So, want to go now, or..?"

"Now's good," Lorne says, feeling weirdly better that Sheppard's as nervous as he is.

It's not even that they don't have fun while they're trying, not really, back in the mountain later that night, Sheppard's hands light on Lorne's shoulder, his voice hushed as he gasps, "Yeah, God, do that again."

Lorne complies, feeling Sheppard's thighs flexing under his hands. Sheppard groans, low in the back of his throat, and it makes him feels almost as good as he does a few minutes later, when Sheppard pushes him back onto the bed and slides his hand into Lorne's jeans.

It feels good, but there's an undercurrent of tension that didn't exist between them before, and Lorne can't relax.

"I should go," he says, swinging his legs round to sit on the side of the bed and straightening his shirt.

"Go where?" Sheppard asks, pulling his arm down from where it's flung over his eyes, and sitting up.

"My quarters," Lorne says, and Sheppard laughs.

"These *are* your quarters, Ma –" He cuts himself off, his eyes comically widened in horror, but they slipped into names rather than ranks a couple of weeks ago, so the slip is doubly awful. Lorne still feels a weird bubble of hysteria. "Sorry," Sheppard says. "I should probably go."

"Yeah," Lorne agrees, watching Sheppard tuck himself away and zip his jeans, trying to remember that he really did have his mouth on Sheppard's dick less than an hour ago; it seems like a dream already.

Sheppard rubs the back of his neck, not quite meeting Lorne's eyes. "See you tomorrow?"

Two days later, in Mitchell's apartment, it's like that awkward evening never happened, the three of them sprawled naked across Mitchell's bed.

"Please," Sheppard gasps, high pitched and urgent, Mitchell's and Lorne's linked hands stroking him. "Please, God, oh, God."

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It seems like he and Mitchell should be just as awkward together without Sheppard, not least because Lorne is, essentially, making out with his CO's boyfriend, but it doesn't happen like that. Instead, they spend more time than is probably safe or wise making out in supply closets, and Lorne tries not to think about the fact that Mitchell is almost certainly telling Sheppard about it.

"You never know when you might need an emergency stock of envelopes," Mitchell says, letting the door close behind them and shoving Lorne against the two foot wide space that isn't hidden by shelves or part of the door.

"Yeah, I can't count the number of times I've really needed envelopes off-world," Lorne says with as much sarcasm as he can manage when Mitchell's fumbling at the buttons of his pants. Although this was Mitchell's suggestion the first time, Lorne's not sure if this is a kink that either of them actually have, or if it's just circumstances. He still prefers not to think about what Sheppard and Mitchell do, or about how he and Sheppard only ever touch when Mitchell's there as well.

"First time for everything," Mitchell says, and cuts off the conversation by kissing him. Not that Lorne was all that invested in it to begin with.

He makes sure to push their pants far enough down that they'll be decent when they walk out, but that's all he manages before Mitchell gets a hand on his dick and he can't really think any longer.

When an alarm blares and the world flashes red, he thinks for a second that it's the weirdest orgasm he's had in a while. Then he realizes that Mitchell's still working his cock and he hasn't come, and then he realizes that it's the alarms in the mountain and they have to go fight off whatever got through the stargate this time.

Not for the first time, Lorne finds himself wishing that the alien invasions would just hold off for another five minutes. If only because it's incredibly disturbing to realize, twelve hours later, trapped between Sheppard and Mitchell and coming so hard he's shaking, that he's internalized the flashing lights enough to hallucinate them when he does.

At least Sheppard thinks it's funny.

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Lorne's sense of impending disaster isn't as finely tuned on Earth as it was on Atlantis, so he's surprised when someone knocks at his door late on Friday evening. He's even more surprised when he finds General Landry on the other side.

"Good evening, sir," he offers, glad he hasn't changed for bed yet – Sheppard's out with McKay, Weir and Beckett, and Mitchell's out with his team, but he was still half-hoping to get together with them later.

"Major," Landry says, giving him the scrunched forehead look he gives everyone from Atlantis. "I wasn't sure I'd find you here."

"Sir?" Lorne asks, biting back the smart remark he wants to make. Landry isn't that kind of CO.

"I suppose you're going to tell me you didn't know anything about this?" Landry asks.

"About what?" Lorne asks, mentally scrolling through the last few days for something that Landry might be talking about.

"I see," Landry says, which makes one of them. "I want you in my office in the next ten minutes."

"Yes, sir," Lorne says to his back, and goes to change into his uniform.

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When he comes back from being accused of covering up a truth that he knows nothing about, Lorne pulls his cell out and checks the screen. No messages, and he's been in his quarters all night, so he knows no-one knocked at the door.

He thinks for a minute, then boots up his laptop and opens his email, surprised to find a message from Sheppard, J, sent two hours ago.

I guess Landry's told you what happened by now. I'm sure you'll talk him out of thinking you were involved.

Look after everyone for me.

It's been a pleasure.

J.

Lorne was hoping for an explanation, something to ease the ache of disappointment and hurt that Sheppard would go off to save Atlantis without him, and now he wishes he'd never looked, because this isn't an explanation. It's Sheppard saying goodbye.

He half expects a visit from Mitchell, who must know, if only because Landry will have hauled Colonel Carter in to figure out the shields, but he doesn't come. A handful of expedition members do, wanting to know what he knows, which is pretty much nothing at all, and he thinks about going down to the mess, making himself easier to find.

Look after everyone for me.

But he doesn't want to. He doesn't know what he'd say to them, when there's no reassurance to offer, not really.

He can't stop thinking about Sheppard, that first time, clutching at Mitchell and talking about Atlantis like it physically hurt. He should have known Sheppard would do something like this, that he wouldn't just give up on the city.

He knows he's supposed to be the reasonable one of the two of them, and he wonders, now, if Sheppard would have told him if that wasn't true. It's deeply flattering that Sheppard trusts him with their people in his absence, but he wishes – something.

He doesn't want to be left behind.

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Mitchell finds him at half past ten on Saturday morning, while he's trying – and failing – to talk himself out of going to the control room for any news. So maybe 'finds him' isn't exactly the right phrase, since he can't imagine Mitchell needed to look, but – but he didn't sleep, and the whole world feels glass-sharp, hard edged and brittle, and his thoughts keep running away.

"You heard?" Mitchell asks, pushing Lorne back into the room and closing the door. Lorne nods. "Did you know what he was planning?"

"No." Mitchell's still holding Lorne's arms lightly, close enough for Lorne to see when his expression shifts from neutral, professional concern into something stronger, worry and fear and, for a moment, something like relief, like he's glad that Lorne wasn't in on it as well, that they weren't both lying to him.

"Okay," he says. "You don't look too good."

"Well, my old CO's about to be blown up by one of our nukes, my new CO thinks I was keeping it secret the whole time, every expedition member still in this state wants to know what's going on, and I didn't sleep," Lorne says, the whole thing coming out a lot more sharply than he meant it to.

"Sucks to be you," Mitchell offers, and Lorne thinks, 'you too,' but doesn't say it. He should offer Mitchell a seat, rather than leave them standing there, but he's a little afraid that he won't be able to stay awake if he sits down. "You think he can pull this off?" Mitchell asks after a while.

"Sure," Lorne says, like he has to everyone else. "McKay's good at this sort of thing." Except that McKay's good at scientific fixes, at getting something working when it's broken, not at fighting off Replicator armies. Even Sheppard, Ronon and Teyla combined aren't that good, not without back-up.

"Yeah," Mitchell sighs. He tightens his hands on Lorne's arms briefly, then nudges him towards the bed. "Get some sleep. I'll get you if anything happens."

"I have to –" Lorne starts, but Mitchell just pushes him down and starts on the knots in his bootlaces.

"You have to sleep," he says firmly, and Lorne's too tired to argue, even when Mitchell pulls the covers up round him like he's a child. "I'll get you if anything happens," he says again. "I promise."

"Thanks," Lorne says. He can feel the next sentence in the back of his throat, wanting to be said, and swallows against it, closing his eyes. Stay with me.

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Lorne's not entirely sure why he lets Mitchell talk him out of the mountain on Sunday evening. If pressed, he'd say it had something to do with the litany of two days buzzing incessantly in his head, or the way his skin aches with fear and the need to be comforted.

Mitchell looks worse than he feels, like the struggle to keep from showing just how scared he is is leaving behind its own scars on his face. As far as most people are concerned, he and Sheppard are casual friends at best; while it's okay, in part, for Lorne to look as scared as he feels, Mitchell can't.

"You mind if we just go home?" Mitchell says when they're in his car, heading down the mountain.

"Sounds good," Lorne agrees, and doesn't say a word about how Mitchell has never, before this, referred to anywhere as 'home'. He has no idea what it means, anyway.

They don't have sex, for which Lorne is grateful, not least because he's never felt less able to get it up than he does at this moment. He wants to sleep, desperately, but the space where Sheppard should be feels huge in his absence, and Mitchell's no more capable of filling it, of offering comfort, than he is.

He wakes up in the early hours of the morning to Mitchell's voice whispering in the dark next to him, the familiar rhythm of prayer, and it makes his throat ache.

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The Daedalus is due over Atlantis, assuming they don't have to fight off any Replicator ships, at 1117, Earth time. By 1045, every expedition member still in the mountain is gathered in a corner of the mess, and all Lorne really wants is to go sit next to Mitchell, who's drinking coffee within speaking distance of their group, and lean against him. He's brittle with tiredness, and he's spent the last couple of nights in Mitchell's bed, trying not to think. He can't get warm any more, and he doesn't remember the last time he was scared like this.

No-one's saying anything, or even looking at each other, but when Lorne looks up, Mitchell meets his eyes, though his expression doesn't change.

He's too distracted to pay attention to who's coming in and out of the mess, so he's half a beat behind everyone else when they scramble to their feet for Landry, who looks, when Lorne sees his face, supremely pissed off.

"Colonel Caldwell just contacted us from the Daedalus," he says, not really looking at any of them. "Apparently General O'Neill and Colonel Sheppard managed to defeat the Replicators and take back the city."

There's a ripple of noise through the group.

"They're all right?" Lorne asks stupidly, then adds, "Sir," off Landry's look.

"Colonel Sheppard and Dr Weir will be gating back here later today, along with General O'Neill and Mr. Woolsey, but yes, they all seem to have survived." He glares at Lorne again, presumably because he's the closest Landry has to Sheppard at the moment, and leaves.

Lorne feels like laughing, overwhelmed with sheer relief, and the deep breath he takes seems to unknot something deep inside him. When he looks over, Mitchell's looking down at his coffee, and the smile on his face is so peaceful it hurts.

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"Miss me?" Sheppard says that evening, leaning in Lorne's office doorway like it never happened.

"Were you gone?" Lorne asks. Look after everyone for me. It's been a pleasure.

Sheppard grins. "Want to get out of here?" he asks, and Lorne knows they'll probably never talk about this, about Sheppard bequeathing Atlantis' people to him, or how fucking stupid the whole thing was, the way Lorne wanted to kick him for taking off without him.

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Sheppard tries the 'miss me?' thing on Mitchell as well, when they get to his apartment, but Mitchell doesn't take it quite so well.

He grabs Sheppard and shakes him, hard. He looks more angry than Lorne would have imagined he was capable of. "That was such a fucking stupid –" he says. "What the hell were you even –"

"I know," Sheppard says quietly, and reaches up to touch his cheek, softly. Lorne half turns away, awkward and out of place again. "Sorry."

"Would have served you right if you'd been killed," Mitchell says.

"I'm sorry," Sheppard says again. Lorne feels the touch of Sheppard's fingers against his wrist like an electric shock, but he knows it means he's included in the apology.

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Make up sex, it turns out, is still fantastic, even if you're not the one being made up to, or the one doing the making up.

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"Why don't you come back with us?" Sheppard says, tilting his head to lean against Mitchell's knee. He's been sitting on the floor all evening, never moving far from touching Mitchell, like he's soaking it up. They're going back to Atlantis in the morning, and Lorne half wishes he could do the same. He's sitting by Mitchell on the couch instead, close enough that they bump elbows when one of them stands up, and it has the same comfortable, domestic feeling that their first morning did.

Mitchell drops his hand to card through Sheppard's hair. "Cos I already have a job and a team here?" he suggests.

"We're getting a dozen new marines," Lorne says, looking away from the basketball game that no-one's really watching. "You could put together a team."

"And we have jumpers," Sheppard adds. "Don't tell me you don't miss flying."

"I kind of like the team I've got," Mitchell says. He's obviously joking, but he sounds serious under it, like he's weighed this up before. He probably has, since this isn't the first time Sheppard's made the suggestion. "And someone's got to keep Vala from jumping Jackson in the middle of the gate-room."

"Yeah, that's not really a problem with Teyla," Sheppard agrees dryly. He catches Mitchell's hand, not looking back. "Landry likes you, you could talk him into it."

"I know." Mitchell ducks his head slightly. "But I think they need me here."

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"Try not to let him get himself killed in the first week," Mitchell says to Lorne the next morning.

"Working on it," Lorne promises, though he's yet to find anything that will stop Sheppard from trying to get himself killed every other week.

He wishes, briefly, that he knew SG1 better, well enough to find someone and ask them to keep an eye out for Mitchell, make sure nothing happens to him. But he doesn't, so he says, "Take care," instead, and hopes it will do.

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Sheppard finds him three days after they get back, and says, "Come by my quarters later"; it's just as awkward as it was on Earth, but Lorne still goes, two days later, when Sheppard offers again. He can't stay over, not on Atlantis, but for the few minutes he spends lying next to Sheppard, working up the energy to leave, all he can think about is lying next to Mitchell while Sheppard was off risking his life to save the city, how Sheppard's absence felt like a physical thing between them.

He catches Sheppard looking at him a couple of times in meetings, and thinks Sheppard feels it as well.

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He's not really surprised when, a couple of weeks after they've started going on missions again, Parrish asks, "What's up with you and Colonel Sheppard?"

"What do you mean?" Lorne asks. He's grateful for the dark, since he suspects he's blushing, and grateful that their hosts gave them two rooms instead of one, because Parrish has moments of freakish perceptiveness, and he doesn't need Coughlin and Reed to be within over-hearing distance if this turns out to be one of them. Which he suspects it will, since Parrish was in Lorne's office that morning, when Lorne turned around and bumped into Sheppard, stood too close behind him, and they both jumped back sharply, apologizing in a rush before Sheppard muttered an excuse and left. That kind of things been happening a lot, though still less often than the moments when Lorne remembers that they're friends, kind of, and actually have a good working relationship.

"Nothing bad," Parrish says hastily. "You just seem different, since we got back. I hope you didn't have a falling out on Earth," he adds, the smile clear in his voice.

"No," Lorne says. "No falling out." No falling out, and not on Earth.

Just the realization that the one person they both need in order to make a relationship work is in another galaxy and doesn't want to leave.

"Evan?" Parrish says, the smile faded into concern. "Is everything all right?"

"It's fine," Lorne reassures him, and it isn't even really a lie, because everything will be all right, even if it isn't right now. They just need to figure out how to get from where they were to where they need to be, and he doesn't know where that is right now.

"You know you can –" Parrish starts. "I mean, I know how to keep a secret, if you want to talk."

Lorne's well aware of this, particularly since Parrish already *is* keeping a number of his secrets. "Thanks anyway," he says. "Try to get some sleep. Long day tomorrow."

"You too," Parrish says, dropping it easily. It's one of the things Lorne likes best about him. "Good night, Major."

"Night, Doc," Lorne says, but he lies awake for a long time after Parrish's breathing has slowed, trying to get used to the way his skin aches for something he barely had for long enough to miss it.


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