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Wherever We Are Understood

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"Home isn't where our house is, but wherever we are understood." ~ Christian Morgenstern

 

1.

Coming out to his family over the Easter weekend turns out to be far less of a nightmare scenario than Cam had been anticipating. His relatives are understandably shocked, having always assumed that Cam's infamous crush on Amy Vandenberg meant he was straight, and he ends up fielding a barrage of awkward questions from his mom and dad, from Casey and his wife, from his aunts, uncles, and cousins, about what being bisexual means for him, about what John and he mean to each other.

It's embarrassing as hell, but really, a couple of days with his face burning fire engine red? Is a small price to pay for his cousin Debbie instituting a new Mitchell family rule--mostly aimed at her own teenagers--that 'gay' would never again be used as an insult.

Just as Cam's cheeks are starting to cool and his heart is swelling with love and affection for his crazy, big-hearted family, his uncle Marvin turns to him and asks, "So, what kind of personal lubricant do you use? I hear the oil-based ones are no good."

John, the coward, employs underhanded tactics to stay out of the line of fire: whenever a Mitchell starts zeroing in, he uses Brendan's adorable antics to distract and evade.

"Pay back's a bitch, Sheppard," Cam whispers threateningly when they're finally alone in Cam's old room, undressing for bed. He's buzzed, overwhelmed, the inquisition having begun shortly after breakfast on Saturday, pausing only briefly for church on Sunday. It had picked up again immediately afterward, with family friends dropping by the farm to gossip, and it hadn't tapered off until after dinner, once everyone was too gorged and indolent to do much except doze in the late afternoon sun or take a long, meditative walk down by the creek bank.

It's been a good holiday, Cam's violated sense of privacy aside. Brendan hadn't taken long to warm up to the family, his toddler prattle and burbles of delight winning everyone over; he's fast asleep in his crib against the wall, exhausted from being passed around all weekend. John, on the other hand, had remained unfailingly polite and charming, every inch a proper guest, despite Cam's hope that he would loosen up. "Next time Aunt Emma needs someone to read to her the sex scenes of her Harlequin romance novels, I'm volunteering you for the job."

John's snort is muffled in his shirt as he pulls it up over his head. "I'd probably be more worried if Aunt Emma hadn't been showing off that souped-up e-book reader you and Casey bought for her birthday this year."

His pants pushed down around his ankles, Cam frowns and says, "Oh, yeah. I forgot about that." He's also forgot his sneakers, with their laces a knotted mess, which is what comes from having a five-year-old playing at his feet all afternoon. He drops his ass on the bed, wincing as the springs protest--he doesn't need to give his family any ideas about all the sex he's not having tonight--and picks apart his shoelaces until he can get his sneakers off. Stripping down to t-shirt and boxer-briefs, Cam folds away the rest of his clothes; John does the same, military neatness ingrained in them both.

Getting into bed, Cam curls up yawning with his head on John's shoulder. After the quiet has had a chance to settle, he says softly, uncertainly, needing the reassurance more than he'd realised, "It's not so bad, right? Them knowing?" His parents aren't angry or horrified or worse, disappointed, which has always been Cam's greatest fear.

John shrugs and Cam rolls with the movement. "No, it's not so bad. Could've been worse." Turning his head slightly to brush his lips over Cam's forehead, he adds, with a note of bewilderment, "They've been... really nice."

"They're good people," Cam agrees, smiling into John's t-shirt, profoundly grateful to them.

"Your parents-- I mean, Mom and Dad," John hesitantly corrects himself, "are pretty awesome." It's probably going to take a while before he feels comfortable claiming Cam's parents for himself--Susanna had no trouble, even with her own parents still alive, but Cam suspects there are class and cultural differences at play.

"They like you," says Cam. "They all do, even Aunt Pauline." John flinches at the name, and the way they're pressed together means it's impossible for Cam to miss, though it's barely discernible, a muscle twitch that could be easily dismissed as an hypnic jerk. But Cam knows John too well for that, and so pushes himself up on an elbow to frown at him. "What?"

John's mouth is a grim line and he's visibly struggling for words. "She didn't like me so much when I got your cousin Trevor killed in action."

Cam stares at him, surprised, then leans down to try to kiss the shadows from his eyes. The one and only time they've talked about Afghanistan was during the six weeks the expedition had been kicked out of Atlantis, when one of John's Marines, Corporal Gauthier, along with his new SG team, had been killed in action by a prior of the Ori. They'd come back to Cam's apartment with a bottle of whisky, and in the dark, drunk and maudlin, they'd spoken of war and guilt, the people dead from their failures: a transport full of innocent refugees Cam had mistakenly bombed; Bryce Ferguson, losing the sky and later his life because he'd taken a hit meant for Cam; Trevor Mitchell and Kevin Dexter--Mitch and Dex--killed by an RPG as they followed John into enemy fire; James Holland, who John had failed to save even after a desperate solo rescue, disobeying a direct order in the process.

Trevor's death is an old grief, worn smooth around the edges, and Cam has faith that his family, Aunt Pauline included, will open their arms to accept John on his own merits, not just as Trevor's cocky pilot friend, or as Cam's husband and Brendan's father. John is such a good man. "Sweetheart, hey, listen to me," Cam says quietly, his gaze steady. "We Mitchells aren't much for holding grudges, especially when it comes to someone dying because they were trying to save lives." More than half his family are in the service themselves: they understand the cost of war.

"Guess we'll have to wait and see," John replies, as noncommittal as asking Chinese or pizza, leaning up for a kiss intended to end the conversation. Cam lingers on his mouth for a minute, their warm breaths mingling, then lies back down with his head tucked under John's chin, an arm wrapped around John's waist.

"They're gonna love you," he whispers in the dark, content to leave it alone for now, confident that he'll be proved right soon enough. "Trust me."

 

2.

His parents make an effort to reach out to John in the weeks after Easter, extending their Sunday calls with Cam to include a few minutes with John, chatting about John's new post and Brendan's favourite foods. They email embarrassing photos of Cam growing up, and ask John for photos of himself as a kid, of Brendan with him and Cam, their little family. They're trying to put together a scrapbook, Cam tells John; there's a scrapbook for Casey and Susanna and their kids, a scrapbook for each of his cousins.

John emails back with pictures from Brendan's day care, and from the last SG-1 team movie night, which have become less about movies and more play-with-the-baby nights. There's a nice shot of Cam and John, smiling, their shoulders leaned together, with Brendan in their laps. But for all the photos they have of their life now, there's nothing from John's own childhood to send to his in-laws.

"Maybe it's time to give your dad a call," says Cam, hating that John is so cut off. There's Teyla and Ronon and McKay, of course, even if they are in another galaxy, but being disconnected from one's own family is not something Cam really understands, and so he worries about pushing too hard or maybe not pushing hard enough. "He deserves to know that he's got a grandson."

But John only grows more tight-lipped whenever Cam brings up the subject. "I'm sure he already knows." They're cleaning up the living room where somehow Brendan's toys have bred and multiplied while Cam's back was turned. John throws the blocks into their designated bin with more force than is strictly necessary. "He has ways of finding out things. He knew that Nancy had filed for divorce before I did. And I'm sure he's been made aware that I've accessed my trust fund for the first time since... ever." He slams the lid of the container closed. "Right, so, ball's in his court."

Cam retreats to the garage and bangs his own tools around, frustrated by John's ludicrous reasoning. It's so typical--there's no use arguing when he gets like this. Later that night, he comes dangerously close to hitting send on an email he's composed to Patrick Sheppard, refusing to believe the man is such a homophobe that he wouldn't want to know his only grandchild. It's only because he damn well knows John would view his interference as a betrayal that Cam deletes the email.

The Hammond returns from a mission on Thursday, and Sam comes over on a clear, warm Saturday morning in May to help Cam work on the Mustang. Carolyn once asked why he didn't sell it, use the money for a family-friendly vehicle, but the Mustang isn't just a flashy car--it's a part of him, his childhood. He built it with his own two hands as a teenager, with help from his father and brother and even his mother, when she wasn't complaining about engine parts cluttering up her barn. One day he wants Brendan to have it, even if cars no longer run on gas by then. Sam could always install a naquadah-fueled engine: how awesome would that be?

He's flat on his back under the engine block when he hears a car pulling up. Sam's boots move off, and she asks, "Can I help you?" to whoever is there. Grunting, Cam wriggles out from under the Mustang and rolls to his feet to find Sam shaking hands with an older gentleman in a suit and tie.

"Yes, thank you," the man is saying to Sam, a friendly smile on his handsome face. "Are you Colonel Cameron Mitchell?"

"No, sorry, I'm Colonel Samantha Carter." Sam nods in Cam's direction, and the man turns, frowning.

"Hi there," says Cam, walking over, using a rag to wipe his hands. There's still a bit of grease under his nails, but the stranger doesn't hesitate to shake hands, though he's careful about his cuffs. "I'm Cameron Mitchell."

"Colonel Mitchell, I'm pleased to meet you," the man replies, but his gaze flickers back at Sam, as if he'd been expecting her instead. He does a credible job of hiding his surprise, though, his grip strong and confident, like he's had practice delivering the perfect handshake. "I'm John's father," he says next, and Cam's jaw drops in surprise. "Patrick Sheppard."

Cam has never seen pictures of John's father or brother, only an old faded one of John's mother in flight gear next to her Cessna, taken before John was even born. Patrick Sheppard looks nothing like his oldest son, or rather John looks nothing like his dad, who is taller than John by an inch or so, handsome with a square face, hair more salt than pepper, and wearing silver-rimmed glasses, an expensive-looking charcoal suit, and even more expensive leather shoes. There's a sleek, black Mercedes Benz parked at the curb.

"Well, it's, it's great to finally meet you, sir," Cam stutters, suddenly conscious of the holes in his jeans and wishing he'd left the Mustang alone today. He's sweaty and gross and unprepared for a visit from his father-in-law. "John's just gone to the park with Brendan, but I'll call his cell and let him know you're here. Please--" He gestures for Patrick to follow him up the walk. "Come in, have a seat."

He sits the man down in the living room with a glass of water, grateful that Brendan's toys haven't completely taken over the furniture, while Sam goes into the kitchen to call John and start a pot of coffee.

When Patrick eyes the basket of clean, unfolded laundry on the floor, Cam says, "Excuse the mess," then bites his tongue. So what if his housekeeping has been slip-shod lately? Not everyone can afford to keep a maid, and Cam wouldn't anyway, on principle. "I've got to say, sir, I'm surprised to see you. I hope there's nothing wrong."

"Everything is fine," Patrick assures him, shifting all his focus onto Cam, smiling warmly. His charisma is completely unlike John's guileless charm: it's the difference between a satelitte-guided missile and a gravity bomb that falls where it may. "The company is weathering the recession quite well, thanks to Dave's leadership. I've had to cut back my hours at the office significantly, at my doctor's insistence. Oh, nothing too serious," he adds, brushing away Cam's concern. "My heart's not what it used to be, but I'm being careful, taking all the right pills, exercising regularly. I plan to stick around for a few more years, especially since--well."

Patrick ducks his head for a moment, one of John's tells, then straightens up with a determined look in his eyes. "I'd like a chance to get to know my grandson."

 

3.

When John finally comes home with Brendan, Cam quickly excuses himself, leaving Patrick and Sam to talk Washington politics. "Your dad is here," he hisses, panic edging his words. "He wants to meet Brendan." Paranoia has kicked in, and while he was initially glad Patrick's taking an interest in his grandson, Cam now worries that 'taking an interest' might involve more than Thanksgiving dinners and a college fund, that maybe his father-in-law wants a replacement for John, another Sheppard to carry on his legacy.

What if Patrick believes that two gay men are unfit parents for his grandson? He has resources and connections, an army of lawyers at his beck and call.

Tugging off Brendan's light spring jacket, John kneels to remove his muddy shoes. "I should get him cleaned up first." He frowns at the grass-stains on Brendan's trousers, then squints up at Cam. "Are you wearing that?"

Cam plucks at his ratty t-shirt. "Uh. Howsabout I take Brendan upstairs and you go see your dad?"

John's eyes go dark with old hurt. "Did he say he wanted to see me?" he asks tightly.

Eyebrows hiking up his forehead, Cam is suddenly calm in the face of John's turmoil. It's a godsend, really, that their emotional crises never quite strike simultaneously: either Cam is steady enough to keep John from flailing, or John's sense of humour cancels out Cam's temper. "Or hey," says Cam. "Screw what your dad thinks, and let's go in together."

He tugs John to his feet, and John, tension easing around his mouth, leans in to kiss him softly. "You're smarter than you look, Mitchell."

"Daddy, me too!" Brendan clamours for his own kiss. Laughing, Cam hoists his son up and smacks him soundly on the cheek, then gives John room to add a wet raspberry to Brendan's neck.

"Johnny," says Patrick, and John goes still, the smile falling off his face. From the doorway of the living room, Patrick looks from John to Brendan to Cam, then back to John.

"Hey, why don't we all sit down, okay?" Sam suggests, guiding Patrick back to the couch. His hand on the small of John's back, Cam propels him lightly forward until his ass hits the recliner, Brendan in his lap. Sam takes the other end of the couch while Cam perches on the ottoman at John's side like a sentry.

"You're looking well, Johnny," says Patrick, the faintest quaver in his voice, sounding, for a brief second, like an old man. "Cameron tells me that you're stationed at Cheyenne Mountain now. How are you liking it?"

John's lips are turned up in a grin that's painful to see. "I'm enjoying the change of pace. And how are you, Dad? How's the company?" It's worse than playing nice with the IOA--at least with them, Cam knows it's all just politics. Here, John's a wounded animal.

"The company's had a decent quarter, despite the downturn. Dave's been quite extraordinary in his new role." At John's grimace, Patrick switches gears. "He wanted to come with me, but I needed to see you first, by myself. I've got a lot to make up for, John." Everything in his voice, his expression, tells Cam he's being sincere, which earns him some points.

After a minute of uneasy silence, Cam coughs lightly and pulls Brendan onto his lap. "Patrick, this is our son, Brendan. He'll be turning two next month." He then points at Patrick and waits until Brendan follows his finger. "Son, this is your Grandpa Sheppard."

"Grampa?" Brendan asks eagerly, looking around for Cam's father. "Where is Grampa?"

Cam can't help exchanging amused grins with Sam. "No, kiddo, this is your other grandpa. You met Daddy's mom and dad at the farm, remember?" Brendan's nod is slow and uncertain, so Cam tries again. "Do I have a mommy and daddy?" he asks, and this time Brendan's nod is more confident. "Who are my mommy and daddy?"

"Granma and Grampa!" Brendan's hands fly up as if to cheer on his correct answer. "In Kan-dis!"

"Yes, in Kansas," he chuckles, and leans back into John's hand when it comes to rest between his shoulder blades. "Now, Brendan, does Dad have a daddy too?" Brendan looks trustingly at John and mimics his nod. "So this is Dad's daddy, okay?" Again Cam points to Patrick, who gives Brendan a gentle smile. "This is your other grandpa. Uh, how about 'Granddad'? Just to avoid confusion."

"'Granddad' is more than fine," Patrick says gratefully. "Hello, Brendan." He holds out a hand to shake. "I'm your Granddad Sheppard."

But Brendan turns shy, squirming around to bury his face in Cam's chest. It takes a few minutes of coaxing to get him to even look at Patrick a second time. "Sorry about that."

"Please, don't apologise." Patrick gives Brendan's tousled head a fond look, then transfers it to John's own bowed head. "John was quite shy as a boy."

Of course that gets John sitting up, protesting. "I wasn't shy. Everyone always said how charming I was." He gives Sam the evil eye when she snorts indelicately. "I was. Very charming." He huffs out an offended breath, then focuses on his father, shoulders going back. "Dad, it's nice you came to see Brendan, but we're... kind of a package deal." He reaches for Cam's hand, lacing their fingers together. "So if you're hoping to pretend Cam and I don't exist, well, that's not really going to work for us."

Flushing, Patrick drops his gaze, then nods. "I deserve that. I've never believed much in second guessing my decisions, John--you know that. But I do regret the things I said to you the last time we spoke."

Clearing her throat, Sam stands up and gives Brendan her hand. "C'mon, big guy, why don't I fix you some lunch?" Brendan goes with her willingly--Sam is his favourite auntie, after all--and they disappear into the next room.

Once they're alone, Patrick looks between them, his mouth twisting. "Did John tell you what I said to him?"

"Only that he wanted to come out to you." Remembering the anger he'd felt when John told him what had happened, Cam wants to reach out and shake the man: he clasps John's hand tighter to keep hold of himself. "He was trying to explain why he'd gone back for Captain Holland, about how he'd felt about him. But you wouldn't let John talk."

"I didn't want to hear what he was trying to tell me," Patrick admits, blue eyes dimmed. "Johnny, I can't blame you for leaving--I've turned it over and over in my head. I spent years trying not to notice your interest in other boys, unwilling to believe that my son, my son, was-- a homosexual."

Bisexual, actually, but Cam figures that can wait for another day.

"When you married Nancy," says Patrick, "I convinced myself that I had been imagining things. I convinced myself that you'd be happy, that you would settle down, have children, give up all this running around with the Air Force."

"Well, I'm sorry about Nancy," John bursts out, his resentment tamped down, but not by much. "But Cam and I are happy together. We're settled down, we have a kid. So, y'know, can you at least pretend to be happy about that? Even if we are still running around with the Air Force?" Granted, they're no longer serving on front lines teams, but Cam has command of the 24th Training Wing out of Peterson and John's rebuilding an Ancient warship at a secret off-world base, so it's not like they're stuck behind a desk. Cam squeezes his hand again.

Patrick's composure cracks entirely, and he leans forward without a thought to the lines of his suit, trying to reach across the coffee table for John, flinching when John practically jerks back in his seat. "Johnny, I'm sorry. I'm so very sorry." His voice is gone rough and uneven, and Cam wonders now why he thought father and son were so different, because Patrick sounds exactly like John when he's upset. "Can you ever forgive me?"

Cam feels torn between wanting Patrick out of his house, away from John so he can't ever be hurt again, and feeling pretty damn sorry for the old man, scraped raw by grief and regret, feeling his mortality and desperate for a second chance.

"Dad..." John presses his lips together like he's holding back a flood of words. "You come here, out of the blue, and--look. How'd you even find out about Brendan?"

Patrick adjusts his glasses, not embarrassed, exactly, but caught out. "Isaac told me. I'd asked to be notified should you ever make use of your trust fund--just so I'd know if you needed help, John," he quickly explains. "Once I realised you had met with Esther about your will, I was determined to know the details."

"You got my lawyer to break confidentiality?" John's eyebrows are severe: they remind Cam of Teal'c when he is most displeased by Tau'ri foolishness.

"Well, no," says Patrick. "Not technically."

John gives Cam a significant glance, to remind him of John's argument that Patrick already knew about Brendan. "Okay, okay. You were right," Cam sighs. "I was wrong."

"Johnny, I can't erase what I did when you were young," Patrick says earnestly. "But I want to try to make up for it--not just with Brendan, but with you too. And Cameron." He throws Cam an anxious look.

"Cam?" says John, pleading with his eyes for an answer. "What do you think?"

"You're the only one who knows how you feel, John," he replies, lifting one hand to cup his cheek. If he were John, he'd grab a chance to reconcile with his father--but then, his father isn't Patrick Sheppard. "Whatever you decide, I'll back you up." He pauses for a moment, then adds, "And it's not like you have to figure it all out right this moment, you know. Take some time. Sleep on it."

John nods, his head dropping forward until his forehead touches Cam's. "Yeah," he says quietly. "Okay." After a moment, he sits up and turns to Patrick. "Dad, I... It's gonna take me a while, okay? I kind of got used to not having a family. But then I had my team, and Cam and Brendan--along with the entire Mitchell clan." He grins a little, a flash of amusement. "I want Brendan to get to know you and Dave. Family's important. And maybe we can, I don't know, make the rest up as we go along?"

Visibly relieved, Patrick lets his body relax with a sigh. "Thank you, John. That sounds more than generous." He includes Cam in his broad smile.

Sam pokes her head out of the kitchen, Brendan on her hip. "Have you sounded the all clear?" she calls out, her eyes dancing.

"Yes, ma'am, it's safe to return to base," John smirks, tossing off a sloppy salute. Wriggling out of Sam's arms, Brendan dashes across the living room with arms outspread, catapulting into his lap. "Oof," says John, laughing.

"Dad!" Brendan squeals. "I'm a plane!"

"You're an F-16!" John exclaims, matching their son's enthusiasm. He snares Brendan around the waist and hoists him up in the air, swooping him around the room. "Rrrrrrr!" he growls, imitating the rumble of the fighter's engine.

There's a cautious joy in Patrick's eyes as he watches his son and grandson, love and affection beginning to peek out from under the heavy weight of fear and uncertainty. "Patrick." Cam holds out his hand until Patrick accepts the handshake. "If you're anything like your son, I reckon you can do just about anything you put your mind to," he says, as blunt and honest as he can. "So stick around a while. Be John's dad."

Gaze steady on Cam's, Patrick clasps his hand again and nods. "Thank you, Cameron. I believe I will."