Daniel watches silently as Sam and Mitchell are led away to begin their new and separate lives in a world where the stargate remained buried, and tries hard to cling to the knowledge that SG-1 has been through worse in the past and still emerged victorious. This, he assures himself as the driver pulls up in front of an anonymous-looking high rise, is not the shape of the rest of his life. It can't be.
Out of the three of them, Daniel suspects Mitchell will have the most trouble adjusting. For all that he was the most stoic when given the news, he's a man of action. Daniel and Sam will be able to occupy themselves with scholarship and research--even if no one else will ever see the results--but Mitchell will have nothing left from his old life: not his family, not his friends, not the Air Force career he lived for, not the stargate...not even the skies. The government was taking everything from him, and offering nothing in return but a life that contained nothing he wanted.
Daniel remembers the story of the Cameron Mitchell who never escaped his wheelchair, and wonders what this Cameron Mitchell will do to get by.
Saturday nights are always busy, but the bartender makes a mental note when John walks in, because he's a regular and a good tipper, and she likes to reward both traits. Plus, he's worth a second look anyway, and so is the man he's with tonight: tall and fair and broad-shouldered, and John's come in with just enough men that she recognizes this one as his type.
Or at least she thinks it's a type, because John's pretty discreet--ex-military he told her once, and she thinks that's probably why--and he's never so much as held hands with any of the men she's tagged as his dates. But she can read body language as well as anyone who makes a living giving people what they need, and she recognizes the shared glances and mirrored body language and almost-touching for what they are.
She keeps an eye on the two of them as she serves up pint after pint of micro-brew, making sure they're taken care of, and trying to guess at how the date is going. From the way John's date keeps looking down, she thinks John might be more into him than he is into John, but she's not sure. They both look a little awkward, sitting on opposite sides of the rickety table. First date, she decides. And probably not someone John's known very long. Then again, she's never seen John go on a second date. Or at least he's never brought the same man back to the bar twice.
They leave together a couple of hours later, falling into step easily despite all their earlier discomfort. She wonders idly if she'll see this one again.
John's demeanour usually gives new meaning to the word "reserved," so when he comes into work on a Sunday morning apparently unable to stop smiling, Maggie's ears perk up. She waits until the first client--a rich kid working on getting his pilot's license--is gone before she starts teasing him.
"Good night, boss?" she asks impudently, spinning in the ancient office chair. She's guessing wildly here--knowing John, it's just as likely he finally found a way to swing that new helicopter he's been coveting--but she's rewarded by a slow flush across John's cheeks. A hit...a palpable hit! "So who is she?" She cocks her head, trying to read his expression. "Or he?" She grabs the desk to stop the chair and waits, grinning, while John fidgets with his wristband--always a dead giveaway.
"He's a client," he says at last, tucking his hands into his pockets almost defiantly. "I took him up yesterday. He's new in town; said he wanted to get the lay of the land."
"And you offered him a more personalized tour afterward?" she asks, quirking an eyebrow.
"Something like that."
Maggie considers this for a moment. She knows John has the odd one-night stand, but those usually just leave him a little more relaxed. This is the first time she's seen John react to someone like this. "You gonna see him again?
John starts to shake his head. "I don't--"
"Don't give me the line about not having time," she interrupts impatiently. "I know you're trying hard to keep this place in the black, but I think even you have enough time to have a life. Joseph does it."
"Joe's married," John objects.
"Exactly." She leans forward a little, inviting gossip. "So is this guy hot?"
John shrugs, which she takes to mean yes.
"And did you have fun with him?"
"Then call him," she says decisively. She pauses, and then adds, "You did get his number when he booked his flight, right?" She opens the red appointment book without waiting for an answer and flips through to the previous day's bookings, running her finger down the page until she comes to the last flight of the day. "Cameron Mitchell, huh? Good name." She looks up at John and holds out her hand. "Give me your phone."
"I'm not sure that's a good idea," he says, hand hovering over his pocket protectively.
"I'm not going to call him," she says. "I'm just going to program in his number. Make sure you have it with when you realize I'm right and decide to invite him out for dinner."
He hands over the phone reluctantly.
"Trust me," she says, and adds Cameron Mitchell's phone number to John's address book.
Ray can't quite figure Mitchell out. He's a good man, of course. Solid worker. Friendly. Cheerful. Good with the customers and the other mechanics. The type of man you could call for help in the middle of the night knowing he'd show up.
But there's clearly something else going on with him. For one thing, he occasionally lets slip statements that just don't fit with what he's told them about his background. Places he's been. Things he's seen. Facts he knows.
Facts he doesn't know.
And then there are all those times before and after work when Ray's caught him staring up at the sky, searching for...Ray's not sure he can even begin to guess what he's looking for, and the wistful, lonely expression on Mitchell's face at those times makes Ray think it's probably better that way.
Ray wonders at first if Mitchell's ex-military, just from the way he walks and holds himself and organizes his tools. Mitchell laughs when Ray asks and tells him that his father was Air Force and that's where he gets it from, and despite the flash of pain in his eyes, Ray accepts it, because there's no reason not too.
If Ray were a more romantic man, he might think that Mitchell had a secret of some sort. One that's eating away at him. As it is, he mostly tries not to think about it. Because really, as long as Mitchell keeps showing up and doing his work, his personal life is none of Ray's business. Besides, Ray likes the man.
Ray keeps on letting it go, even when Mitchell calls in out of the blue and takes a week off work without warning, leaving Ray wondering if he ought to head over to the man's house with a six-pack of Coors and a sympathetic shoulder...if only he had the time with all the extra hours he's suddenly putting in.
He's relieved when he catches Mitchell whistling at work one day, and realizes that he hasn't seen the man searching the sky in a few weeks. When Mitchell's good mood continues for a few days, Ray starts gently teasing him, asking who she is and where they met. He's pleased when Mitchell responds with a laugh. If it still feels like Mitchell is hiding something, at least his smile seems genuine.
That's good enough.
Heather heads over to say hello to her new neighbour the day after he moves in. Cameron's tall and good looking, with just the barest a hint of a Southern accent, and she knows she's being obvious, but she can't really bring herself to care. She stands in his doorway making small talk, and ignores the fact that the house looks like it's already unpacked with no boxes in sight, focusing instead on the lack of a wedding ring. She promises to bake him an apple pie and when his smile falters a little, she switches it to cake and leaves him to whatever he was doing before.
Recently divorced, she decides, and vows to give it a little time before she pushes for more.
She waits two months before she begins again, waging a low-level war to get inside those politely-defended walls, bringing over home-cooked meals and encouraging him to call her by her first name. She doesn't get very far--can barely even get him to tell her what he does for a living--and can't figure out what she's doing wrong until Cam comes home one day in a new, bright yellow Mustang accompanied by a friend. Cam introduces him, but it's not until John presses against Cam's side that she gets it.
She mumbles something inconsequential to them and heads inside, feeling foolish, and wondering if maybe she should take up Sheila on her offer of an introduction to her accountant cousin after all.
John calls him two days into the first vacation John's taken since they started the school.
"The school's still standing," Joseph says dryly when he answers the phone. "Maggie and I can manage, you know. You really don't need to check on us."
"I know that," John says, sounding tired.
"Then why are you on the phone with me instead of off doing something fun with Cam?" Joseph asks. He runs a pen down the scheduling book as he talks, reviewing the following day's lessons. "Where are you guys, anyway?"
"Just outside of Kansas."
"Seriously? Jesus. What'd you do? Drive all night?"
"Yeah," John says, and then falls silent for so long Joseph starts to wonder if he's still there. "Listen," he says at last. "If someone you cared about told you something completely ridiculous...something so far out there that you were questioning their grasp on reality, what would you do?"
Joseph stops fiddling with the pen. "What kind of ridiculous are we talking about here? The kind that says Elvis is alive and being held prisoner by the CIA and black UN helicopters are hovering on the other side of the hill, waiting to take over the country?"
"It's a lot more creative than that."
Joseph pictures Cam, pictures the man he'd tagged as being as sane and stable as anyone Joseph's ever met, and tries to imagine what he could possibly have said that would shake John this badly. "I don't know, John," he says slowly. "I mean, are you really questioning his sanity? Do you think he can't distinguish between fantasy and reality?"
"I don't know. I think he knows what's real here and now, but...he's been hiding something since I've known him, and I think this is it and I...I don't know. I told him once that I wasn't going anywhere, no matter what his secret was, but this...I don't know what to do."
It's an impossible situation and there's really nothing Joseph can say to make it better. As far as he knows, this is the first long-term relationship John's had since his marriage fell apart, and he's hating Mitchell a little for doing this to John, even if it's not really his fault.
Joseph spends the next twenty minutes on the phone making encouraging sounds while John stumbles around without really saying anything. By the time he hangs up, he knows two things. First, his partner is well past caring into full-on in love. Second, the next time he sees Cameron Mitchell, it's going to take everything he has not to punch the man.
The whole conversation is swept from his mind the next day as he sits in front of the television watching as an alien fleet spreads across Earth's skies.
Sam's first thought on seeing John Sheppard climbing out of the car behind Cam is, "Oh, that explains it." Her second thought is to wonder how they're going to explain John's presence to the president.
She pushes both thoughts aside as she steps gratefully into Cam's hug, giddy with relief that the three of them are finally reunited. Even if it is because Ba'al's about to invade Earth.
It's not until John asks, sotto voce, whether Sam and Daniel knew him in the other timeline that it occurs to her to wonder just what Cam's relationship with John had been back in their own time. She doesn't think they were a couple, but then she hadn't actually known for sure that Cam swung both ways either. She listens to Daniel reassuring John that John and Cam had worked in different galaxies, and makes a mental note to ask him later just what he knows about the situation.
As it turns out, it's a good thing Cam thought to bring John along for the ride.
"The army corps of engineers have been drilling at the coordinates you gave us for the last three months," Hayes says when Sam points out that it was Antarctica's weapons platform rather than the stargate that had saved them in a similar situation in the other timeline. "We’re not quite there yet, but we’re close."
Sam winces internally at the self-congratulatory tone and fights down the urge to slug the man. Not matter how much she knows they need her, she's not sure they believe it, or at least not enough to excuse her hitting the president. Instead she takes a deep breath and falls back on the crisp, professional tone she's perfected during two decades as a woman in the Air Force. "Even so, its power source is almost depleted. We’d need a fully charged zero point module."
"Teanos," Daniel says automatically. "There's no reason it shouldn't still be there."
"We'd have to steal a cargo ship." Cam sounds a little gleeful at the thought, and Sam wonders just how bored he's been. Even with John Sheppard around to keep him company, she can't imagine he's enjoyed the past year any more than she has.
"Once we recover the ZPM, we can gate straight back to Earth, because the stargate's already in Antarctica," Sam says. "We'll just need someone with the Ancient gene to--"
"Operate the chair," Cam finishes, turning a little. Sam follows his gaze to John, and sees Daniel catch on at the same time she does. John looks from Cam to her and Daniel warily, and Sam wonders just how much Cam's told him.
Hayes looks between the four of them, clearly puzzled, then lasers in on John. "And who exactly are you?"
The thing about his relationship with Cam is that it's easy. A bit awkward in the beginning, maybe, because John's never really mastered the art of being smooth when asking a hot guy (or girl) on a date, but after that part is out of the way, it goes pretty smoothly. Easy conversation. Easy silence. Easy sex. Cam's available whenever John is, and doesn't object to the long hours John puts in at work. He's also a great cook, which is always a bonus in John's book.
It goes so well, in fact, that John's not really surprised when things start to go...not badly, exactly, but it becomes clear there's something Cam's not telling him. It's not so much what Cam says as what he doesn't say--the things he avoids talking about, the stories he doesn't tell, the questions he doesn't ask. John gets the sense that if he could just fit the gaps together, he could make out the shape of the secret that Cam's hiding, but it remains frustratingly out of reach. Even finally seeing Cam's house--suburban and way too big for a single man who makes a living as a mechanic--and listening to Cam stumble around a lie about an inheritance doesn't really clarify things for him, though it does confirm that there's something major Cam's not telling him. That night, John spends a long time lying beside Cam running possible scenarios through his head and discarding each one as more ridiculous than the last.
It comes down to a matter of trust, he decides eventually. Does he trust that the man he's been seeing for the past year, even knowing there's a secret? John's never been especially good at trusting people, but Cam is one of the most decent men he's ever known. John can't imagine him doing anything truly awful, can't imagine him deliberately hurting anyone or betraying John.
He doesn't really want to imagine his life without Cam in it. The decision, he realizes, was made before he even came to bed.
He feels a shift in the bed beside him and realizes Cam's awake. He reaches out, lightly running his hand through Cam's hair. "You don’t have to tell me the truth," he says, keeping his voice low in case he's wrong about Cam being awake. "It wouldn't...I'd still--" He stops, not quite what to say. How to tell Cam that whatever it is, it doesn't matter. That John already knows everything he needs to. "I'm not going anywhere," he says at last, close and quiet, and hopes that Cam understands what he's saying.
When Cam does finally tell him the truth, it's nothing he was expecting, and he spends a long night wondering whether he'll be able to keep his promise and stick around. And then before he has to make a decision, everything changes.
John gets through the trip to the White House and the meeting with the president on autopilot, falling back into the military mindset of focusing on the details needed to complete the mission without worrying too much about the big picture. It's not until he's strapped into an F-15 behind Cam and on his way to steal a ZPM--whatever that is--that he really has time to start thinking about what he's just been told. He can't do anything about the invasion--doesn't know enough about what they're facing to even make a suggestion, and doesn't want to dwell too long on the news that he's apparently part alien himself--so he thinks about other things. Like the looks of surprised recognition Jackson and Carter had given him when he climbed out of the car.
Jackson says John and Cam didn't work together, and John believes him, but that's not the same as saying they didn't date, and given Jackson's smug look on seeing John, John's not sure they didn't. Not sure he's not just a replacement for a man from another timeline. Not sure what it means that Cam almost certainly knows all sorts of things about him that he never revealed. Not sure how close a match he is to that other John Sheppard.
John knows he should ask. Ask Cam how well he knew his John Sheppard and what they meant to each other in another lifetime and why Cam looked John up in this timeline the first place. But this hardly seems like the time, with the world falling apart around him, and then they change course from Antarctica to Russia, racing for the other stargate, and their escort is getting shot down around them, and John stops thinking about it, too horrified by what's happening to worry about whether his boyfriend only wants him because he looks like someone else.
The question comes back to him as he shoots at the invading aliens (aliens!) while Carter works frantically to try to send them back through time in order to restore a timeline that's completely foreign to John. It's a ridiculous thing to worry about now, of course, but she's talking 1929 and John knows he's facing a lifetime with nothing left from this life but a man who might only be using him as a substitute for someone else. And then it doesn't matter because Jackson's dead and so is Carter and so is the alien soldier Cam miraculously persuaded to help them, and it's just him and Cam and a bright blue event horizon and blasts from energy weapons flooding the room.
Life or death, John thinks dizzily as Cam grabs his wrist and urges him up the steps toward the gate.
I'll ask on the other side, he decides, and follows Cam into the past.