There is nothing in his blood but fire. It streaks up and down his arms and legs, as if he is nothing but kindling and soot. His skin can no longer hold in the flames and they erupt, bursting from him until he is engulfed. He screams even though he promised himself he would not make a sound. Not a peep of suffering, although he can't remember why. Who will care if he makes a sound?
Who will care... and then he doesn't care himself as everything evaporates into mist and smoke.
"I've done everything I can for him. As much as I hate to say this, there's really nothing more I can do until I know more about the creature that bit him. Any news on when Teal'c and Daniel will be back from," Carolyn consults the tablet screen, "P7M-3K4?"
Sam shakes her head, her face still bone-pale as she watches the monitor. Even though she wants to look away, she can't. "No. We haven't gotten word back yet from them. They aren't sure if they'll be able to find the creatures we encountered when we first arrived or not. It was nearly three weeks ago."
"Yes, I think we're all well aware of how long ago it was," comes the doctor's dry answer from across the room. "I know I think of it every time the moonlight streams in through my bedroom window."
There's nothing else to say because Sam knows what the doctor is thinking... what everyone is thinking. People either come back from missions or they don't. There's a body bag waiting or a slap on the back. There are very few of these sorts of endings where death might be preferable because being this sort of broken isn't an alternative. How is Cam supposed to go back home now? There's no way that he's ever going to live among the general population again, much less drive back to his parent's house for a slice of warm pie. It's enough to make Sam feel sick all over again.
The change is only supposed to happen every 28 days but, after that first time, it seems to have set something off in Cam's brain and he's been changing off and on, with some regularity, every sixteen hours since. There's no cause for it that science can find but then this isn't really a scientific issue. The magic of some of these planets they find when they go through the 'gate can't be explained by any science they were taught in university.
Even still, an idea is percolating in her brain. She hasn't said anything because she's afraid they'll shoot it down and really, there aren't many other options that Cam can take. Even so, there's nothing they can do right now. Whatever they decide can't wait until the full moon to see if Cam is somehow able to work out the magic that keeps him human for days at a time. He needs more of a reason to stay in one form or another. Maybe Atlantis will give him that opportunity.
There's a cold wind blowing through the trees but Cam doesn't care. He's just happy to be outside the metal and glass of the city. Everyone thinks it's beautiful. He thought it was beautiful, once. Now it's a prison. No bars on the windows, of course, but everyone knows when he's around as if a city-wide bulletin goes out every time he steps out of his room so that everyone can be alerted of his movements. "The wolf is walking, people. Lock up your children and raw steaks! We still don't know what he's capable of."
This is supposed to be his chance at a life so he can't very well complain. Sam did what she could to make it seem like she would be coming back at any moment with an antidote to the toxin that's coursing through his body. That was six months ago. About the third month, he gave up hoping that his friend would walk through the gate every time he heard the familiar whooshing sound. He'd gone "dog" for awhile. When John had started bringing him his meals in a glass bowl instead of on the customary Mess Hall china, he'd been forced to see the absurdity of the situation. That didn't mean he hadn't eaten holes in John's favorite t-shirt in retaliation, though.
"Over here," Ronon shouts and Cam turns to see him waving an arm in the opposite direction. There's a cave that they're supposed to be heading toward for the night but Cam just shakes his head. He wants to explore. There's no human signatures for absolutely miles (Chuck promised and he's learned to trust gate techs to do their jobs) so there's no one he might come across accidentally. He's not even sure that he'd be a threat but everyone seems to be worried that the wolf might decide to tear out the throat of everyone he meets. No one's sure of the animal's reaction, not even Cam.
Neither does anyone realize just how much of Cam is in control when he's in wolf form. He's never felt the urge to change anyone's perception or ease their fear. If Sam was here, she would narrow her eyes and tell him to grow up and quit being a twelve year old. He'd let her, too. Cam rubs at his chest as he's reminded all over again how much he misses his friends. His motorcycle. His mom's berry pie. While he'd always known this job would eventually kill him (because he figured he only had nine lives and he was down at least five at this point), he hadn't figured it would take everything away from him first.
The crux of this whole situation is that he's pissed at the Stargate. Not the SGC. Not the IOA. Not the American President who'd gotten his name wrong the last time he'd come by Cheyenne Mountain to pin a medal to his chest. Not even his team. No, he blames the strangely round device that called to him, lulled him into a false sense of security so that he'd walked onto that planet feeling like a god, ready to save all the lowly little people who lived in darkness. God, he'd been such a fool.
Cam doesn't bother looking around because he'd known that John would eventually come looking for him. If this happened a year ago, Cam might have found something in the gesture but now it just irritates him. He feels like he had to give up John Sheppard just like he gave up everything else. He's not fit for human company these days. Even if he was, there's no telling if he might suddenly change forms right when things were getting back to where they'd been the last time they'd parted company. All those promises of Next time. Maybe we can do that next time. mean nothing in this new reality.
"I'm not going to run away," he mutters into the upturned collar of his coat. "Just found a view that I found interesting."
And it is an interesting view. The valley they've hiked into keeps narrowing until there's nothing but the side of a mountain. Part of Cam wants to run to the top until there's nothing but sky left over. He wants to run until his tongue is hanging out of the side of his mouth, the air coming out of his lungs in great gasps. If he was free, that was exactly what he would have done without another thought.
When John doesn't say anything right away, Cam turns to look at him out of the side of his eyes. The idiot is standing there, his hands in his pockets, looking up at the mountain. "You think they have bears in their mountains here?" John asks without looking at Cam but there's the silly smile turning up his lips that makes Cam wish his own lips were capable of turning up in answer.
"What does it matter? You have your very own guard dog."
Instead of choking out a gasp of surprise and horror, like he should have done, John laughs. It's a typical John laugh, more of a snort than an outright bark of laughter but it's not a muffled shriek or gasp of surprise. It's... normal. "I already have my very own Chewbacca to keep me safe. You weren't invited along because you're hairy part of the time. He's got more hair than you do."
"Most of the time." But the sarcastic tone sounds weak, even to Cam's ears. He really is being a twelve-year old about this. Since he's been at it long enough that it's become a habit, he's not sure how to break out of the attitude and behave like a human being once again.
Because Cam is the one being predictable (as if complete ass was his new predictable), it's up to John to be the one who does something out of left field. "Take your coat off."
"You want to see me naked? Isn't that against regulations?" But Cam's already got his hand on the zipper. He's been itching to strip and start off for the summit with a howl. Even if this isn't what he thinks it is... hopes it is, Cam's willing to take this to whatever conclusion John's got in mind.
John holds his hand out for the coat. "I figured I'd backtrack and pick up your clothes for you. Didn't expect to find you still in them. All this wilderness we found just for you to explore and you're standing here staring at nature like you've never seen trees before. I would have expected you to have pissed on half of them already. Really, Cam. You're disappointing me."
Since Cam's working on the laces of his boots, he misses all but the little bit of John's smirk. "I didn't figure you wanted a dog along on your grand adventure."
He nearly falls over when John bends down to help him with the knot on the left shoe that he always has trouble with. When it's unlaced and John looks up, they're nearly nose to nose because Cam is too surprised to straighten up. "This has never been my adventure. This is your adventure, Cam. We just came along so that you weren't alone. That, and Ronon's been feeling cooped up lately."
Realization, when it strikes, leaves Cam reeling. "You haven't been going off world. None of you have."
"We're a team. When one of us stays behind, all of us stay behind."
"And you've been babysitting." He can't back away because John's still holding his laces and he'd just end up on his backside, but Cam turns away so that he's no longer facing John straight on. "I never meant to ruin it for all of you."
John cups the back of his knee, abruptly pulling forward until Cam's forced to a crouch so he doesn't lose his footing. When they're face to face, John grips Cam's jaw so that he can't look away. "Let's get one thing straight, you and I. I'm damn tired of you whining. It's beneath you, Colonel Mitchell. As ranking military official, you are still technically the leader of the prime gate team. That would be those group of people that decided to camp out on the coldest, most God-forsaken planet in this solar system so that you would get past this little snit you've found yourself in. We are your team, Cam. Wolf, or no wolf. If you don't like it, you can pick a new team from the people on Atlantis. Hell, General O'Neill still feels bad enough about what happened that he'd probably let you have your pick of anyone in the Stargate community and just ship them over on the next Daedalus run. Say the word, and we'll head back so you can start putting it together."
John pauses, giving him time to answer if he wants to. All he can do is shake his head, but even that is hard to do with the sort of pressure John's putting on his chin.
"Good. Now let's get something else straight between us. I'm not your babysitter. Or warden. Or... what did you call me last time? Oh right. I'm not the dog walker, either. I'm... I'm your friend."
But Cam's drawing the line at hearing John lie. He leans forward slightly so that their lips barely touch. This will be their fifth kiss, all of which have been shared on Atlantis. He blames Sam because she's the one who kept inviting him to visit that year she spent on Atlantis, the underlying smirk always coloring her notes because she knew, even without being told, that he'd found John charming and too good-looking for his own good. It had been something they should have continued but there wasn't time and then Sam was back on Earth and there were things to do.
When he'd woken up to find John staring at him through the bars of the cage, he'd thought of those kisses. He'd been out of it enough that he'd touched his fingers to his own lips as if they'd only been parted for a few seconds and not months. Then the new bitterness had settled in like a weight and he'd pushed all thoughts of romance away.
Who could ever learn to love... a beast?
The line from Beauty and the Beast comes bubbling up from the pit of his subconscious. He'd been forced to watch that more than he'd like to admit because it had been a favorite of his niece for the longest time. Now, he understands exactly what the poor guy had been talking about.
Cam pulls back as if John's lips have burned his own. He was the only one to move, the sane part of his brain points out. There is no look of horror on John's face. No searching for bite marks.
"I never stopped," John whispers before standing up. He turns away, clearing his throat several times. "Leave your clothes here. I'll come back for them so you're not without something to wear when it's time to head back to Atlantis."
"John." Cam waits for John to turn back around but he doesn't, just stops walking. "I'm not safe."
"You never were."
Ronon's been chiding Rodney about the pop-up tent he's brought. It's not luxurious but it's got a space heater and a cot so he doesn't have to sleep on the rocky ground. "This way, you won't have to listen to me complain tomorrow morning while you cook my eggs the way I like them," Rodney announces smugly, getting in yet another reminder of the bet he won. For the duration of the trip, he doesn't have to cook breakfast. They're all glad that Rodney got out of KP duty, actually. They've tasted more than enough food with char on it to make it appealing. He lets it continue for a while longer before giving up and retreating to his tent where he can get in a few uninterrupted hours of work before the generator conks out for the rest of the evening.
Teyla's swathed in so many blankets only her eyes are visible but John and Ronon only have their coats on against the cold that still seeps into their bones even with the roaring fire for heat. Since Teyla's pressed up against Ronon's side, he doesn't need much more covering but John could use something more. He's just too lazy to get up and get his sleeping back from his pack that's further back in the cave. With the exception of Rodney, they've decided to rough it since there's the cave walls to block out the worst of the wind. It would have been nice if they'd picked a warmer planet but John knows better than to complain about the weather. There are just too many parts of his body that ache in the cold, a constant reminder of how quickly he's aging.
"Do you think that Colonel Mitchell is enjoying himself?" Teyla asks as a low-pitched howl echoes through the valley. John's internal clock tells him that they've heard the same cry every half hour, like clockwork. If nothing else, Cam is being good about checking in. "Is there much for him to do on this planet?"
"Plenty of smaller animals to chase. Scans didn't show anything large in this area so he's the only real predator tonight. I'm sure he's having a grand ol' time." But part of John is worried. There were other planets they could have gated to but they all had large animal signatures on them. Even though they all had their weapons close, John hadn't wanted to put too many wild animals into the mix.
You didn't want Cam to have to fight for survival on his first night out, a small voice reminds him. Not that Cam didn't have the ability to protect himself but John isn't sure he could or, worse yet, would. And you don't want to see him with blood on his muzzle.
No, not yet. He's just getting comfortable with the idea of Cameron Mitchell as predator. He isn't dangerous, that much John knows. Not really. He'd been the only one that had been allowed near the wolf when Cam had fallen into his funk. Everyone else had been growled at, hence the rumor going around Atlantis that Cam was dangerous. He wasn't. There had been emotion in those dark eyes surrounded by still darker fur. Cam's wolf was dark brown with streaks of white that ran up his spine, mimicking the scars that John had only glimpsed before. There was as much humanity in the wolf's eyes as there is in any of the rest of his team.
Then there's the worry that Cam won't bother coming back. That he'll just keep running. John's pretty sure that won't happen but who's to say that anything he's said lately has gotten through to the man. Right now, he feels like it's just all gone in one ear and out the other. Not to mention the horrified look Cam had gotten on his face after that kiss earlier. If it could even be called a kiss. It was nothing more than a touching of cold lips.
The Cam who was a monster didn't scare John. The Cam who had decided he didn't want anything to do with John did.
There's a bluish cast to the sky when John first opens his eyes. Something's bothering him, dragging him from his well-earned sleep. The fire had burned down to ashes before he'd finally been able to close his eyes and drift off to sleep, the edges of his sleeping bag pulled up nearly to his ears. From the rusty way his eyes don't want to open, he's pretty sure he hasn't been asleep for very long.
It's when he tries to move that he discovers his problem. Everything still worked (he tries wiggling his fingers and toes just to make sure he hasn't woken up paralyzed but they seem to be working just fine) but he couldn't move. The bag he'd so easily pulled on last night has no give, cocooning in on him until an unfamiliar clawing of claustrophobia begins to dig at him. Just when he thinks about calling for help, a huff of breath ruffles through his hair.
"Cam?" The question is tentative only because he's suddenly keenly aware of warmth where he didn't remember any. When he sneezes, he's sure of it. "How many dust piles did you roll through? You smell like dirt."
His answer is an irritated snort and the swipe of a large tongue across his ear. It's not an encouragement to get up, though. The wolf settles back down and is soon snoring softly. There's nothing else for John to do but to go back to sleep. He does so with a smile because there's nothing he wants better than to be pinned in to his sleeping bag by several hundred pounds of animal that is Cam.
The mission report for M57-5T6 has to be turned in soon but Cam doesn't care. He's got other things on his mind. For one, the stink of the skunk-like creature he had a tussle with still lingers enough that people have been giving his office a wide-berth. It bothered him in a way he hadn't thought about in a long time. All the odd looks he used to get were a thing of the past unless something happened to remind them that Cam wasn't only just a man any longer. He was accepted as a wolf just as much as he was accepted as a human. His arrival really was just a flash-in-the-pan for the gossips. There were much worse things they had to deal with than furry animals who didn't seem intent on tearing out their throats in the middle of the night. People still got tense the two times a year that he had to change but they didn't care.
And if they did care, they were sent home. John had seen to that. "This is your home," he'd reminded to Cam on that first trip back through the 'gate. "Our home. The great thing about being the military leader is that I can make sure we don't have any annoying neighbors."
So Cam doesn't need to worry about people turning white when they see him walking toward them in the halls. He can even run around the city as a wolf if he wants to. Ronon gets irritated when he joins them for the morning run as a wolf, only because his odds of getting back first are amplified with an extra two legs. Since it's amusing to make the Satedan narrow his eyes in the way he has that says he'll take it out on him next time they spar, Cam does it quite a bit. Besides, it's beginning to feel right to not fight the wolf. To work with the change and not against it.
This mission is the first one where John didn't start looking silly-relieved as they started back toward the 'gate. He's still unsure that Cam won't start running and never stop. There are no words to explain to him that it doesn't work like that. Even if Cam wanted to take off, he can't. Just like he can't take Sam up on her offer to reverse some of the toxin so that he won't have to change every full moon, even if he's on Earth. She can't reverse it so he'd still be, for want of a better word, a werewolf. Minus the slobbering need to eat people every time the moon is full, of course. Well, not that he's ever wanted to eat a person. Except Rodney but that doesn't count because everyone wants an excuse to hurt him when he starts spouting nonsense just to hear himself talk.
There's no way he can leave Atlantis now. Not without taking John along with him. John can't even go through the 'gate alone these days without causing Cam a strong and irrational compulsion to pace the gate room and growl at everyone who isn't John. The wolf is so much a part of him that he doubts a reversal now would do anything to change the way he feels about John. It's almost irrational how much he needs him.
"Hey. You thinking of taking another shower before dinner?"
Even though it's almost impossible to sneak up on him these days, Cam still jumps when he looks up to see John standing in the doorway, his own hair still wet from his shower. "I've had three," Cam growls. "Twice as a dog and once like this."
"You might think about another one. You still reek."
"Thanks." But Cam smiles. He makes a big production about shutting his computer down before he stands up and stretches. There's a great bit of satisfaction in watching the way John watches him, the way his eyes wander down to the gap his shirt makes as he lifts his arms over his head. Mine, the wolf growls. Cam agrees with that statement whole-heartedly.
"Need any help with that shower?" John's eyes darken with lust.
And because the wolf doesn't like teasing, being a rather straight-forward animal, Cam nods.
"Mine," Cam whispers into the side of John's neck when they're both standing under the shower spray. He and the wolf can agree about two things now. They hate the skunk-like creatures of M57-5T6 and they love John Sheppard.