blue flamingos

Less Like Freedom Than You Might Assume

Fandom: Stargate Atlantis

Category/Rated: Slash, PG

Year/Length: 2008/ ~7374 words

Pairing: Lorne, Sheppard, Parrish

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

Summary: You don't always get to decide for yourself.

Author's Notes: Written for [info]lgbtfest

Beta: by [info]domtheknight and [info]tesserae_, who made this much better than it was when I started.

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

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Evan dated the same girl all through his senior year in high school. He was the kind of guy girls dated when they just wanted to have a boyfriend, before dating became all about making out in the back seats of cars and having awkward, uncomfortable sex you could giggle about with your friends later.

They didn't even kiss until they'd been going out for a month.

She liked the idea of having a boyfriend in the Air Force, which wasn't all that unusual. It was a surprise when she broke it off right before they went to college.

They'd been broken up for six months before he realized that she probably knew what he was only just figuring out. He actually got as far as buying a postcard to send to her, but he couldn't figure out what to say. It got lost when he moved out of his dorm at the end of the year, and into a house with three other people, including Pete, who he knew from the football team. Knew a little better than he knew anyone else he knew from football, actually.

He was pretty sure that this relationship was why he found it so easy, a few years later, to slide into the military regulations and secret keeping, why he didn't spend much time at all worrying about how the two halves of his life would fit, no matter how many statistics his sister dug up about anti-gay attacks in the military. He'd never found it hard to present what people wanted to see.

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Evan's been on Atlantis for nearly seven years, longer than he's been anywhere since college, long enough to feel settled in, when things change. Someone, somewhere, gets the idea that morale and unit cohesion would actually improve if people didn't have to keep half their lives secret from each other, and a tolerance policy toward lesbian, gay and bisexual troops is instituted.

They expect issues, when the new policy is finally approved, and they get them. They get so many of them that Sheppard starts slouching into Evan's office at 2200 every couple of days with coffee and cookies so they can talk through all the random shit they've had to deal with in the previous forty-eight hours.

Sheppard comments, more than once, that he's spent way more time dealing with the issue since Don't Ask Don't Tell was abolished than he ever did when it still existed. Evan agrees with this easily, since he's fairly sure Sheppard means as a commander, not as part of his own personal issues.

"What I don't understand," Evan says, after a day of ridiculously stupid comments from half a dozen people, three of them scientists whom he can't pull into line the same way he does the marines, "is how a group of people can have no problem with the idea of travel to another galaxy, potential death at the hands of life-sucking aliens, and the military commander of the base getting sent 48,000 years into the future, but still cause so much trouble over a new damn policy."

Sheppard sighs in weary agreement, and splits the last cookie with Evan.

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Evan's a friendly guy, as is Sheppard, and that works on Atlantis. But there are times, like now, when he really misses the strict chain of command. It's got to get easier at some point, he thinks, but after the third time he's interrupted at lunch by lieutenants looking worried, embarrassed, or both (and he'd really, really like to go back to the "don't tell" part of the old policy), he starts bringing his data pad with him and hiding behind pillars while he eats.

The first Friday after the announcement, he's spending his lunch break checking requisition forms and eating – something. Something that might have once been pasta – whoever's currently got duty in the mess could do with some remedial cookery lessons. Or at least, he's spending his lunch break checking requisitions until Radek appears from behind the pillar that Evan likes to sit beside and says, "Ah, here you are."

"Good to see those tracking skills are still good," Evan says, moving some files for Radek to sit down, and only half-joking. He still remembers chasing Radek round the city when they all got sick and lost their memories three – no, four – years ago.

"At least I have something for which to thank the newest scientists," Radek says. "Sometimes, the SGC's recruitment choices are truly a mystery for the ages."

"If you say so," Evan says, fighting a grin. Sometimes, Radek and McKay have a freakish mind-meld thing about more than just science, the same way he and Sheppard sometimes do. Most of the rest of the time, it's him and Radek doing the mind-meld thing, over just how irritating their bosses can be.

"I fail to see how it can be so difficult to comprehend that 'do not go here' is for their own safety," Radek says. He stabs at his pasta a little more viciously than usual, but not so much that Evan thinks he's really pissed off.

He feels someone come up behind him before he can say anything back, and waits for them to speak – chances are, it's one of the people he sits alone in order to accommodate. People have a lot of questions about the new policy, and apparently Evan's lunch break is their preferred time to try to get them answered.

The person drops his tray next to Evan's instead, and flops into the seat, turning out to be Parrish. "Afternoon, Doc," Evan offers, just to get David's grimace at the nickname. Doesn't matter that Evan's been using it for him since their first mission together, David still seems to believe he can cure Evan of it.

"Evan. Radek." The two scientists nod cordially at each other. It's not that they don't get on, it's just that Evan's the only real link between the two of them, even if they do agree on the virtues of hockey over football, or Indian over Italian, or a dozen other debates Evan's been on the other side of.

Evan waits for David to start on his meal, then asks, "Good day?"

David makes a so-so gesture with his free hand. "It'd help if your guys weren't convinced we're plotting the downfall of the city in lab 3," he says.

"Yes," Radek agrees. "Everyone knows this is being planned in lab 7. Further from the central tower."

"Okay," Evan says, and decides this is a story he might be better off getting from the marines.

From behind his left shoulder, someone clears their throat and says, "Excuse me, Major."

Evan gets a friendly smile on his face before he looks up, to find a marine standing there looking awkward. It's a look he's gotten very familiar with lately. "What's up, Sergeant?"

"I was –" the sergeant starts, but he's cut off by Katie stumbling against him and has to put a hand on her elbow to steady her.

"I'm so sorry," she says, giving him her most innocent smile. "I didn't see you." She smiles down at the rest of them, including Keller, who's pulling over an extra chair. "Am I interrupting?"

The sergeant looks at the four civilians, then at Evan, who tries to project an air of polite concern. "No, ma'am," he says finally. "I can come back."

Evan knows he should ask, 'you sure?' but he doesn't want the answer to be no. "I'll be in my office all afternoon," he says instead, watching Katie smile at the sergeant as he leaves.

"You need office hours," she tells Evan as she sits down and steals David's bread roll.

"Or an appointment system," Jennifer adds quietly, only looking up when Radek mutters agreement.

"Tried that," Evan says. "Both of those, actually."

Radek nods. "I think they only serve to remind people that you are there for them to come to," he says. "Not to discourage them from coming at bad moments."

"You think?" David asks, and that's all it takes for the conversation to decline rapidly into increasingly stupid suggestions for how Evan can control the people wanting to see him.

It doesn't escape his notice that three different people approach the table and turn back when they see that he's surrounded by scientists, or that, when one comes a little closer, both David and Jennifer look up with identical how-badly-do-you-really-need-to-see-him looks.

Evan walks David back to his lab and waits until they're safely behind the closed door before asking who orchestrated the little lunch-time rescue.

David shrugs. "I don't know what you mean," he says.

"We've known each other too long," Evan reminds him. "That innocent thing doesn't work on me any more."

"I don't know what you're talking about," David says, still smiling innocently, and Evan shakes his head and says, "thanks," anyway.

David ignores him till he's half out the door, then says, "you're welcome."

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Evan wasn't interested in being celibate for his whole career, but he wasn't interested in losing that career either, so he didn't sleep with anyone he worked with, and never let it go much beyond that. He was pretty sure he wasn't good enough at lying to not mention someone he was in a relationship with, and he was very sure he wasn't good enough at the pronoun thing to pretend that any hypothetical partner was a woman.

He had no idea why he got along so well with his first female CO. He got attached to her unit after his promotion to captain, and she was serious about seeing that he was properly trained for his new rank, which might have had something to do with it, but that couldn't possibly have been all of it.

He wondered, later, if it was because she picked up that he was hiding the same secret she was. He didn't pick up anything, not even in retrospect; if there had been clues, he couldn't see them.

He'd been under her command for a little under a year when he got a weekend leave pass and fled into Frankfurt. He'd planned to maybe hit a couple of the bars he'd heard people mention, but he couldn't shake the nagging sense that something was going to go wrong, and ended up hiding out in his hotel room instead.

The feeling only intensified when he got back to base. Something ugly had obviously happened. He caught the first guy from his team that he saw. "What's going on?"

Andrews looked at him for a minute. "You haven't heard? Word is the Colonel's being transferred out of here, back to the States for a hearing."

"Over what?" Evan asked, trying not to sound as stunned as he felt. He'd worked with her for nearly a year, surely he would have...

Andrews raised his eyebrows at Evan. "Violation of the frat regs with the lovely Major Sunderland."

When Evan went to find her, she was already gone, her office stripped like she'd never been there. A day later, Major Sunderland was gone as well.

He looked her up when he got recruited to the SGC, but it only confirmed what he'd already heard through the grapevine: dishonorable discharge, no further contact. He thought someone at the SGC would probably be able to find her, if he asked, but he wasn't sure what he'd say to her if he did. He thought it would probably include the words 'thank you,' but he didn't know, exactly, what he'd be thanking her for.

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Of course, what Evan forgets is that the scientists on Atlantis always have the gossip first. Since there are more of them than there are military, most of the gossip is about them, so this isn't exactly a surprise. It's a little more surprising that they always have the military gossip first as well, but Evan's not above using this for his own ends – he has to keep ahead of the marines somehow, and he'll use every advantage he can get.

Katie will share anything and everything that she's heard in the labs (Evan's convinced Cadman put her up to this before she left, because Laura gets vicarious pleasure out of knowing that someone is making him blush). Radek will share the stuff Katie doesn't know. For a price. Usually

But not always, and not everything.

Which means that he doesn't realize at first that the group lunch wasn't purely to protect him from stupid questions (seriously, how do people get from 'open tolerance' to 'being charged retroactively'?). It takes him until nearly midnight the next day instead, when he swings by the mess for more coffee.

He doesn't expect voices.

"Plus, you know, everyone knows what the Major and Sergeant Grayson were doing when they were trapped off-world."

He pokes his head cautiously around the door. Two of the chemists are huddled in a corner, their voices low.

Oh shit.

"You okay?" Sheppard asks when Evan gets to his office, ten minutes late. They're between civilian leaders, again (ever since Colonel Carter decided she preferred saving the world from the front-line, they haven't been able to hold onto anyone for more than five minutes). Sheppard has his tablet on his lap and is actually, when Evan looks over his shoulder, working through the folder of mission reports to sign off before the next data burst.

"I'm fine," he says, handing over one of the coffee cups and stashing the new bag of grounds in his bottom desk drawer. He's not sure 'fine' is exactly the word he wants, but he's also not sure what the right word would be. At least half of the not-fineness comes from being abruptly reminded of waking up, six months ago, on a strange planet with no gate, the absolute panic at the prospect of never being found, never going home. It's a very Pegasus-specific fear, and Evan's not sure he'll ever shake it now.

The rest of it, though... He knows he could tell Sheppard, and it wouldn't be a big deal. Sheppard was the first person on Atlantis to figure out that Evan's gay, one of only a handful of people who do know, in any galaxy.

"Lorne?" Sheppard says. He's frowning at Evan now and obviously not saying his name for the first time. For a moment, Evan misses going off-world intensely; it can't be good for them all to be spending so much time with each other, and he's sure there's more gossip about the city's command when they're in the city to be seen.

"Nothing," he says firmly. It's entirely possible that 'everyone' in that conversation really meant 'three people who have overactive imaginations' anyway, and the rumor will die out before most people hear it. Evan's not ready to start thinking about finding out exactly where the line is between encouraging tolerance and having his own privacy, not yet.

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As much as Evan hopes for it, the rumor doesn't die on its own.

He gives it a week, for reasons he can't entirely explain, even to himself. Then, when Sheppard's team goes off-world to honor a months-old trading commitment, he goes down to the infirmary, which is mercifully quiet, and corners Jennifer in her office.

"Oh," she says when he shuts the door.

Evan raises an eyebrow at her, waiting, and she slumps in her chair. "I'm sorry," she says. "I guess I'd have wanted to know as well, if they were talking about me... I mean, not that we were trying to keep a secret... I thought – Katie thought..."

"I'm not down here to yell at you," Evan tells her, belatedly moving away from the door. He still tends to forget that, while she has no trouble relaxing around him when Katie's there as well, she's a lot more invested in seeing him as someone in charge than most of the people he knows, and is a little too easily intimidated by that. "It's not your responsibility to keep me up-to-date on what everyone's talking about this week."

She gives him the skeptical look that he's very familiar with from every mission he's come back from saying he's fine while bleeding over her nice, clean infirmary. "Please. You wouldn't know anything if it wasn't for us."

"I'll remember that next time I have new tales of marine insanity off-world," he says, but it's an empty threat and they both know it. For one thing, Jennifer knows most of those stories before Evan does. "It's fine, I'm not blaming you guys. I just need to know if you know who started it."

Jennifer spreads her hands helplessly. "You know what this place is like. Sometimes, I think rumors generate spontaneously in the air conduits."

Evan laughs. It wouldn't be the weirdest thing to happen in the city.

Radek's on M7G 677 after losing a bet with McKay, and Katie and David say the same as Jennifer when he asks them – they heard the rumor, but they don't know who it came from originally. Katie insists it was a straight man, since no-one else would think Evan could possibly want to sleep with Grayson, which is touching, in a really disturbing way. By the end of the day, Evan's ready to bang his head against the wall in sheer frustration.

That will just put him right back in the infirmary, with Jennifer's huge, guilty eyes. She's hardly to blame for the population of the city deciding that, hey, it's been a while since they had any good gossip about Major Lorne, they'll start some about him and a marine. A marine who is apparently quite happy to tell everyone who'll listen that he wishes they had gotten up to half of what the rumor says they did, but that Evan was a perfect gentleman.

Instead, he hides out in his office, tearing through the pile of paperwork that's been building up while he's been talking about LGB service-members' associations, and changes to next of kin, and whether to split up a team, now that two members of it have told him they've been involved with each other for the last year.

He hears the announcement that Sheppard's team is back over his headset, but since it's not followed by a call for either medical or security teams, he stays where he is. Twenty minutes later, Sheppard shows up anyway, still wearing his vest and leaning in Evan's open doorway. "I miss anything exciting?" he asks.

"No, sir," Evan says, not looking up from his paperwork. It's unreasonable to be taking this out on Sheppard and he knows it, but he's not feeling at his most rational right now. He can regret it later, while he's regretting the way he's currently avoiding Grayson. He can't imagine being that young; he's fairly sure he never was, and he's certainly never been that confident, that open.

"Everything okay?" Sheppard drifts into the office and sits down, and Evan thinks that he's been hearing that question from Sheppard a lot lately.

"Everything's fine. Smith nearly crashed a jumper on the way to the mainland, Marine Biology wants to run another survey on the other side of the planet, and Botany thinks they've found a pollen that acts as a natural anesthetic."

"And you're worried that your stock in man-made anesthetics will depreciate if they have?" When Evan looks up, Sheppard's smiling and frowning at the same time, the weird, assessing look he turns on people when he doesn't know what's going on with them. It's not, Evan decides, all that relaxing to be on the receiving end of it.

"It's nothing," he says, then amends that to, "It's nothing important."

"And yet you're shut up in here trying to incinerate the paperwork with the power of your mind," Sheppard says idly.

"Isn't working," Evan tells him. He feels like he's actually been trying it though – his head is starting to hurt, and he really wishes he had the kind of job where he could go home to somewhere else at the end of the day, just for a break from hearing about his supposed affair. "Apparently, I'm the hot topic of gossip right now," he says. He means it to come out, as much as he intends it to come out at all, more sardonic than he actually manages – he sounds bitter instead.

"No offense, but – you?" Sheppard asks.

"According to the rumor mill, Grayson and I spent the two weeks we were trapped on P2X whatever it was having sex in every position imaginable and a few that aren't." He blurts it out fast but he still finds himself looking over Sheppard's shoulder. He'd give a lot not to be having this conversation.

It sounds like a stupid thing to get worked up about, and any other week, he thinks he'd probably shrug it off with a joke and a quick reprimand to whomever he heard spreading it. He can still do the last part, he knows, but now there's a voice in his head asking what everyone will think, whether they'll think he's being a responsible second in command or whether he's just doing it because he doesn't want people thinking he's gay. If that means that he's closeted, or maybe secretly homophobic. There's no way to explain that neither are true, or that he's worked hard to have this career, and seen how fast it can be swept out from under him.

"Oh," Sheppard says intelligently. The look on his face says that he gets it, and that he doesn't like not being able to help.

"Yeah," Evan agrees. He gives it a minute, in case Sheppard has any brilliant insights, then waves it away as best he can. "It's fine. Sorry."

Sheppard frowns at him for a long moment, then sort of sighs and stands up. "You know where I am," he says.

"Yeah," Evan says again, watching him leave.

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Evan doesn't have much stuff in his quarters. He's never really bothered with keepsakes; either he can remember fine without them or he'd rather forget.

Thomas falls into both categories. Maybe that's why he still has a piece of brilliant blue glass from the central tower on Syrania, the only reminder of someone who left two years ago.

Thomas wasn't like most people in the city. He came from a Pegasus planet, Syrania, one of a dozen or so people living in Atlantis after their worlds were culled.

He didn't let Evan avoid talking about anything.

"I don't understand," he said, four months into their relationship, turning the thick, smooth glass in his hand. "If Colonel Sheppard will not object, and the other people of the city will say nothing, why not be open?"

Evan made himself stay where he was, leaning against Thomas' shoulder. "It's too risky. People will find out. Not everyone stays on Atlantis forever."

"Not like you," Thomas said, running his free hand up and down Evan's arm. "You'll never leave."

You'll never leave me, Evan heard. He'd been hearing that kind of thing a lot lately, and was starting to wonder if it might be true. "And people won't say 'nothing'. Everyone gossips here."

"And you do not wish them to know," Thomas said, sounding hurt.

"No," Evan said, sitting up. It was easier to think like that. "Not like that. I'm not ashamed of you. Of us." That was the easy part. The rest was harder to put into words. "I don't want – it'll end up being the most important thing about me here. More than anything else."

Thomas didn't look very convinced. "You are the next in line for leadership," he said. "Surely that is more important?"

"Not where I come from," Evan said, hoping Thomas wouldn't push it any further.

In the end it didn't matter; Thomas left him, left Atlantis, joining up with some friends from a planet once allied with his own, before they were both destroyed.

Katie came by a couple of days later and gave him a pot of Pegasus chamomile. "It has comforting properties," she said quietly. "You seem sad." She didn't, as far as Evan could be sure, know about Thomas specifically, but she knew there had been something. All four of them did, because Evan wasn't as good at secrets as he used to be, and that had been one he hadn't wanted to keep.

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Two days after coming back from his mission, Sheppard sends Evan's team to P9H 127 for four nights with the botanists, who are doing some kind of survey of plant life there. When Evan points out that he's the military second-in-command and doesn't usually spend his time guarding botanists on a planet that's already been cleared as safer than their own back-yard, Sheppard shrugs, all fake innocence. "We're short of teams to cover it, with that flu that's going around."

The flu has been going around for the past eight months, and is barely more than a bad cold. Evan knows they wouldn't have any trouble pulling together a team of marines to go along. He lets his expression say this to Sheppard.

"Seriously," Sheppard says when Evan doesn't reply. "Majorly short-handed in the city right now, I was all for canceling the trip until I thought of your team. Parrish and Brown would have been devastated."

"If you say so, sir," Evan says, but he's sort of touched anyway. It's nice to be reminded that he matters to these people, even if he is a little worried about what Sheppard might be planning to do while he's safely on another planet. Yet again, he wishes the IOA would hurry up and pick someone to take over leadership of the expedition.

"Maybe he just doesn't want to take us himself," David suggests when Evan mentions it to him later.

"Who wouldn't want to spend four days in the middle of a field watching you guys pick flowers?" Evan says dryly.

David grins at him. "Exactly," he says, sounding totally serious – Evan still hasn't figured out, after the better part of seven years, whether he's being played or not when David does that.

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While Evan definitely has more important things to do than hang out half-heartedly doing paperwork on his laptop while the botanists pick samples, he really doesn't have a lot of things he'd rather be doing, at least, not within the limits of his job. P9H 127 is a nice planet, as far as he can see: open fields, rolling hills, a river with what Reed claims are pike, though he fails to catch any to prove it. Even the weather is good, sunny and warm but not unbearably so, and it feels good to be out of the city for a while. He tries not to think about what Sheppard's probably doing without him. A small, selfish part of him thinks that he really doesn't care, if it means that he won't hear his name whispered every time he wanders into the mess. Sheppard, he knows, won't have a problem telling Grayson to cool the comments about his and Evan's rumored affair; from Sheppard, it will be a warning from his CO, not like Evan saying it. Even if Sheppard can't find out who started the rumor, it will die a lot faster if Grayson stops perpetuating it.

They stay on the planet rather than going back to Atlantis to sleep, partly because the botanists have a lot of equipment, and partly because the survey includes observing some of the plants after dark. Evan decides that watching scientists watch plants in the dark is one thing he can delegate, and stays behind with David while the survey team trudges away, armed with flashlights.

It's peaceful when they're gone, nothing but the sap bursting in the fire and the shuffle of those left behind settling into their tents. Between that and the fire casting strange shadows against the tent walls, it's hard to forget that they're on another planet. Evan's done enough camping on Earth to expect to hear animals moving around, but out here there's nothing. Not even a bat. It's a sad testament to his time in Pegasus that he keeps his hand on his 9mm anyway.

"Oh," David says suddenly, apropos of nothing. "I'm supposed to be more subtle about this, but, well, subtlety isn't my strong suit, so: Dr Fox in archeology would like you to know that, if you're not pining over Grayson, he thinks you have a nice speaking voice, and would love to show you round the mini-museum one evening, if you were interested."

Evan looks at him, one eyebrow raised, till David cracks and laughs. "I don't know," he says. "He wouldn't go away until I promised I'd ask you."

"Well, how can I turn down a guy who thinks I have a nice speaking voice?" Evan asks. It's not the most random compliment he's ever received, but it's definitely top ten, especially since he thinks he sounds like half the rest of the Americans in the city.

"Would you, though?" David asks.

"Would I what? Turn him down?" Evan doesn't, to the best of his recollection, know Dr Fox from a hole in the ground, though he's sure they must have met; that doesn't exactly make for a ringing argument in favor of dating him.

"No." David gives him a mild version of McKay's stop-wasting-the-air-with-your-stupidity look – all the scientists develop one. "Would you date someone in the city?"

"You offering?"

"You had your chance years ago, sorry." David's right, kind of; Evan actually made a pass at him off-world, about six months into their time in the city, and got gently rebuffed on the grounds of David's pretty firm straightness. He has no idea if they'd have ended up being friends anyway if it hadn't happened, or even how they did in the end, but he's glad for it, so he doesn't ask. "If you'd just brought me flowers..."

"Now he tells me," Evan grumbles.

David laughs and twists slightly to face him. Not dropping it then. "I'm serious. I mean, since it won't get you fired now."

David knows that Evan has been involved with two people since coming to Pegasus, though he doesn't know who either of them was. He's never asked and Evan's never volunteered the information, and, as far as he can tell, it's never been a problem. David, oddly, gets a lot of things that Evan doesn't know how to explain, empathy rather than experience.

"If there was someone..." He trails off, not sure how to put it into words.

"Someone who mattered enough?" David suggests quietly.

Evan shrugs; if he had someone like Thomas now, maybe it would be different. "I guess. I'm just – not that comfortable with people knowing about my personal life. I don't need them wondering if I'm putting too much effort into a mission or a rescue because my partner's one of the people missing, or if I'm refusing a scientific mission because he wants it and I'm pissed with him. I just want to get on with my job."

David's smile is weirdly sad when Evan looks up. "I wouldn't want your job for anything in the world," he says softly.

There are days when Evan doesn't really want it either, though they're usually days when Sheppard's gotten himself captured off-world, or when previously pleasant-seeming people turn around and try to sell his team into slavery, which happens with worrying frequency. Those are the kind of stories that he doesn't mind – they're weird and kind of amusing, and the team almost always come back mostly unharmed.

When they get back to Atlantis, Evan can't help looking round for some evidence of what's happened in his absence. They were in touch with the city by radio, of course, so he knows there haven't been any major crises, but he also knows that Sheppard sent his team out so that he could try to deal with the rumors without Evan there.

Whatever he's done, it seems to have worked, because suddenly Grayson is back to quiet and respectfully friendly; no-one's whispering Evan's name around the city, or at least, no more than they did before, which is nice. It feels like things might go back to normal, that maybe this won't be the big deal he thought it would end up being. People will forget that they know this – or think they know this – about him, and he can go back to his private life being private. Or at least one of those things that people don't talk about.

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Of course, he's wrong, as he realizes after a few days. He's always wrong when he thinks that sort of thing in Pegasus, because out here, everything is a big deal, from who had the last chocolate pudding cup at dinner to the Wraith showing up on their scanners.

It doesn't escape Evan's notice that Dr Clark, one of the junior marine biologists, has just added his name to the list of people going back to Earth when the Daedalus next comes by, or that he actually turns and walks the other way whenever he passes Evan in the corridors. Sheppard denies having anything to do with it, but Evan's not an idiot, and Clark might as well be carrying a flashing sign saying I did it, the rumor came from me. Evan doesn't want to know what Sheppard did to find that out. He's a little tempted to ask what made Clark decide starting it up in the first place was a good idea, but in the end, he decides there's probably no good answer to that question, and doesn't ask.

The problem is, everyone knows now. Sheppard can do a lot as military commander, but, until they find a time machine that actually works, he can't change the fact that people know.

And they do know.

He has no idea what, if anything, David says to Dr Fox, but it doesn't work. A few days after they return to the city, Evan's eating breakfast when a tall young man stops at his table and looks down at him with a smile.

"Good morning, Major Lorne," he says, a trace of something European in his voice – no-one wears their flag patches any longer, and Evan can't identify it.

"Good morning." There aren't many people in the city whom Evan hasn't met, so he takes a wild guess and adds, "Dr Fox."

It gets him a beaming smile, so he must have been right. Fox reminds him a little of David when they first met, which is more than somewhat disturbing, since that was years ago, and Evan's already a couple of years older than David. "I wondered if you'd like some company," Fox adds.

This, this is why Evan likes to keep his private life private. He's just gotten off the gossip radar, there's no way he's getting back on it already. "Sorry, Doc. Early meeting with Colonel Sheppard." He stands up, taking his coffee with him. "Enjoy your waffles."

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A couple of weeks later, Sergeant Li stops him coming from the shooting range, and asks him, low-voiced, about staying on Atlantis if she and Helena Metcalfe manage to get pregnant – well, if she got pregnant, with their child. Evan doesn't ask for any more details, though he does make a mental note to push for splitting up their team, which they should probably have done when she first mentioned the relationship – the fraternization rules have stuck for a reason.

A week and half after that, Evan flies Dr Freeman over to the mainland. It's a short flight, but it feels a lot longer, because Freeman spends it telling Evan that he's always thought he was more bi than straight, but that his parents expected him to get married and give them children, after his older sister died when she was twelve. Evan sticks with sympathy for that one, and doesn't point out that, really, at twenty-eight, it's time he stopped letting his parents decide these things for him, especially when they're in another galaxy

Evan's always been a sociable person – he likes people, likes being around them and hanging out with them, likes that the marines drop by his office with their problems and catch him in the corridors to say hi or ask him questions, or, occasionally, tell him something amusing that's happened that day.

He thinks that's probably why he doesn't notice the change in the content of what's being said to him. It goes on that way for a couple of months, less fraught versions of the conversations he had with Li and Freeman; it's not a bad thing, exactly, it's just – Evan doesn't know. Something. Something that makes him start avoiding going down to the mess during busy times, something that makes him hide out in his office with the door shut a lot more than he used to. Something that means he has to take a deep breath and paste on a smile every time someone calls his name in the corridors.

Even so, it's okay; right up until Corporal Davidson knocks timidly on his door and, his face bright red, asks Evan about the best way to have safe oral sex with another man.

Evan holds onto his patience for long enough to send Davidson down to the infirmary to get his question answered, and then a bit longer in order to warn Jennifer that he's coming, so she can find a nice, non-threatening, male member of her staff to loiter about and happen to bump into Davidson when he gets there.

Then he stamps down the corridor, flings open Sheppard's door without knocking, and throws himself into Sheppard's visitor chair, which creaks alarmingly. "You have to do something about the people here," he declares.

Sheppard blinks, one hand coming up slowly, like he's going to pat Evan on the head, or maybe thinks Evan's going to leap at him across the desk. "Something in particular, or do you want me to just take a guess?" he asks.

Evan takes a deep breath, trying to calm down, and feeling like a bit of an idiot. "Just – I didn't come here to be the LGB advice officer to the whole of Atlantis," he says, trying not to sound as desperate as he feels. He knows everyone is stuck spending more time in the city than they'd like right now. It's mostly because there's a limit to how much work he and Sheppard can do, and the mission roster was one of the things that got scaled back when Aronson left, but he misses going off-world with a burning frustration. He misses flying the jumper, and picking up a P-90, and listening to his marines bicker about who the hell knows what, and, as if he doesn't have enough proof that he's losing his mind, he's actually starting to miss being shot at.

"Okay," Sheppard says, and he doesn't look amused at all when Evan looks up. "I didn't realize... Okay." He sounds, even though Evan knows he hasn't, like he has a brilliant plan just waiting to be put into action, and the thing is, like everyone else on Atlantis, everyone who sticks around, Evan feels better hearing Sheppard sound like he knows how to fix the problem.

"Thank you," he says fervently.

Sheppard's brilliant plan turns out to be asking for volunteers, then appointing an actual, official-in-the-city LGB officer, one of the lieutenants who spent months complaining about how dumb Don't Ask Don't Tell was and came out as soon as the new policy came through. It takes a few days, but people soon learn, after Evan shuttles them out of his office and along to her with their questions.

It's an improvement, Evan thinks on every day that he can just get on with his job, every day that he doesn't have to try to answer a question he doesn't *know* the answer to.

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A couple of weeks after that, they all head out to the mainland (de-snaked three years ago by a group of slightly crazy xeno-biologists) for an Athosian festival that's something between a change of season celebration and the anniversary of a big moment in Athosian history. Teyla explains it to them serenely, and only smiles when McKay says that it's just an excuse to go hunting and then get drunk.

It's more than that, Evan knows; a chance to give the Lanteans and the Athosians a break from their normal lives, a chance to relax and have fun. He only puts up a cursory argument with Sheppard about one of them staying in the city.

It doesn't escape Evan's notice that he's not alone for more than a few minutes all evening: David comes back and forth with examples of plants and Katie tells him about the Athosians' success in growing new crops; as the evening wears on, Radek settles near him, muttering in more and more Czech as he gets more drunk, and Jennifer stops by frequently to exhort him to dance, before spinning away with another of an apparently endless stream of men and women.

Evan's quite happy to sit at the edge of the fire's light and watch his friends having fun. He's not drunk, but he's maybe not quite sober either, and it's easy to relax, to forget about the city and the way he's still, even with their new LGB officer, the poster-boy for tolerance. It's not like he doesn't understand that him being out, however unwillingly, makes it easier for others to be. Some days, when he thinks about Thomas, who never said he left because he didn't like hiding, but made sure Evan knew anyway, he thinks that this isn't such a bad thing. It's easier than actually coming out would ever have been, and if someone like Thomas comes along again, he's sure he'll appreciate not having the additional stress of hiding.

It's just that, as selfish and petty as he knows it sounds, even in his own head, the new policy is supposed to be about letting people make their own choices about how open they are, and he'd have liked to have the same choice that everyone else did.

"Oh," Jennifer says abruptly from where she's been slumped against his arm for a while, sounding stunned. "Oh. Well."

Evan follows her gaze. "Oh," he echoes, not sure what else to say. Because he's looking across the fire, to the edge of the trees where the shadow cover isn't as deep, and the man he can see there, being pressed up against a tree and kissed by Halling's younger brother, is John Sheppard.

Sheppard chooses that moment to pull back, looking round the circle of people watching him more or less covertly. Evan thinks he smiles, though it's hard to tell with the space between them and the fire and the shadows, and ducks his head to his partner, saying something. Halling's brother (Evan knows he knows his name, but it's gone now) nods, touching his forehead to Sheppard's the way Teyla does and stepping away.

"That was unexpected," Radek says from down near Evan's knee.

"That's one word for it," Jennifer agrees. When Evan looks over, she's opened another button on her shirt and is looking more flushed than the alcohol and the dancing can really account for.

"If you're going to think things like that about my CO, go sit somewhere else," he tells her, but his heart's not really in it. Not when his brain is stuck on the way Sheppard met his eye when he broke that kiss, a split-second look that said I'm here too and I get it. Let me help.

It's nothing he didn't already know Sheppard thought, but Evan can't stop the warm feeling that look gives him, even if it is probably partly due to alcohol. For the first time since the new policy got approved, he feels like, however much he sometimes wishes he could change what's happened, it might actually turn out okay in the end.

Next: Meanwhile Back On Atlantis...


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