Cam Mitchell's introduction to the Atlantis gay community came just under three weeks after assuming command, when Doctor Alison Porter stormed into his office and planted her hands on his desk. For such a small person, she was incredibly good at looming in a threatening manner.
"I don't know what you think you're doing with Major Lorne," she said, eyes narrow, "but you're going to stop it now. You're his CO and he's depressed and vulnerable because his best friend is injured. Making a move on him would be incredibly inappropriate, and if you get between him and the person he's with, I will end you."
"Uh," Cam said dumbly. He almost started to insist he would never sleep with a man under his command, except yeah, not so much these days. Instead he said, "I'm pretty sure there's been some kind misunderstanding here. Lorne's just an old friend, I've known him almost fifteen years. I'm not getting between him and anyone." He took a second to remember to add the important bit. "Also, he's straight, and so an I."
"Sure. Yeah. He's straight. You're straight. Everyone in the U.S. military is straight. And you just want to be friends." Porter stood up straight. "See that it stays that way, Colonel."
She stalked out of the office, leaving Cam to sit there completely at a loss to explain what had just happened. He had never met Porter before, as far as he could remember. She was just a name and a face from gate team personnel files. She wasn't even a botanist, as far as he knew. Her accusation was just plain bizarre, too. Cam had been spending an unusual amount of time with Lorne lately, but he hadn't realized there were rumors about him having any kind of impure intentions. Rumors about him and Teyla, yes, and him and Weir, Heightmeyer, and at least two alien priestesses, but not Lorne.
Deciding to try to figure out what was up and head off any trouble that might be brewing, Cam went up to the infirmary. He passed through the main ward to one of the more private side rooms where they kept the long-term patients. He found Parrish there, sitting up in bed and staring intently at a laptop on a swing-out table.
Parrish looked up when Cam entered and closed the door behind him. "Good afternoon, Cameron."
"Afternoon, David. How are you feeling?"
"I'm starting to get some feeling back in my legs finally, and I think I can wiggle my toes," Parrish said, waving downward. "I should be up and about in another day or two."
"That's good to hear," Cam replied. How someone could get bitten by a poisonous, carnivorous plant, Cam had no idea, although he imagined that if Daniel was a botanist he would have done it by now as well.
"Can I do something for you?"
"Okay, this is probably going to sound weird and personal, but I figure it'd be best you hear it from me first. Apparently some people have the idea that I'm trying to get into Lorne's pants because I've been spending so much time with him the last few days." Cam held up his right hand. "I want to assure you that my intentions are completely honorable and that whatever people are saying has been completely exaggerated."
As soon as Cam said it he felt a bit silly, because rumors were just rumors and chances were Parrish never would have given it any thought. Still, he and Lorne were friends and given the circumstances and their background it seemed better to be safe than sorry.
"Really?" Parrish got an amused glint in his eyes and smiled. "That's a shame."
Cam's day got weirder. "Excuse me?"
"I'm just saying, he could use some cheering up. He looks like a big sad puppy dog when he visits. Maybe he'd stop if he got laid."
Cam gaped at him. "You ... I ... are you serious?"
"Oh, yes. He tends to mope when something like this happens and the distraction would do him good."
It was a clear sign that Atlantis was getting to Cam, because he actually considered the idea and then said, "Let me talk to John." That was as good as a 'yes', because John wasn't one to say no to sex, at least not where Cam and Lorne were concerned.
"Excellent. Make sure you record it, too. It'll make Evan feel better about it if he knows I'll be able to enjoy it too, and believe me, if the three of you are half as good together as he's described, I will."
"Oh, God," Cam groaned. He felt his face heat up. "I shoulda known that you're a giant perv. It's always the quiet, studious ones."
Parrish's grin grew distinctly predatory and he didn't even try to hide that he was checking Cam out. "I know what I like, that's all. I hardly think you or either of our men have any room to talk, for that matter."
"I have to ask, what brought you here in the first place? You're never going to get anything done if you run around assuring people they're not being cuckolded. Gossip's practically the national sport around here; it's not like we have a lot better to do during our free time."
"Believe me, I know," Cam said with a nod. "I've been on plenty of isolated bases before. It's different when friends are involved. I figured I owed you the courtesy. Also, I wanted to ask - are you and Doctor Porter friends?"
"Alison Porter?" Parrish shook his head. "We're friendly enough, but not especially close. Why?"
"Because she threatened to kill me if I stole Lorne away from you," Cam said. Parrish laughed and smiled, the sexy scientist replaced in an instant by the boyish botanist. Cam chuckled along with him. "Weird, I know, but I swear that Adria is less menacing than she was."
"She's likely been taking lessons from Sergeant Mehra. That's good, she sometimes has trouble being assertive. It also means that you and Colonel Sheppard are being discreet enough that she hasn't noticed." Parrish grinned slyly. "And that she thinks you have good taste."
"I'd feel better about that if I wasn't worried about being killed in my sleep."
"I'll have a word with her. Please don't take it personally. We all tend to be a bit overprotective of our military brethren, especially Evan."
Cam's brows creased. "Who's we? The scientists?"
"The civilians of alternative sexualities."
"Oh," Cam said. "You mean Porter's ... ?"
"A lesbian, yes."
"Huh. Okay, then." Then Cam thought about it a few more moments, "Are she and Mehra - no, scratch that, I don't have the right to ask."
"They are," Parrish replied. "I think under the circumstances you can be trusted to know."
Cam filed that information away under the heading of 'interesting but otherwise not especially important'. "So, what, you guys act as guardian angels for 'soldiers of alternative sexualities'?"
"Something like that. We recognize what kind of a sacrifice they make to protect us. We can be open about ourselves, we even have a club. They can't be, or at least not the same way we can." Parrish shook his head. "Although it's not like they really need protection, given how many of them there are around here, so it basically amounts to some extra candy and favors. Let me tell you, if you like men in uniform, this is the place to be."
"Oh, come on. I know the marines like to claim all airmen are gay, but it's not true," Cam said wryly. "And while there may be urban legends about what sailors and marines get up to out at sea, they're not all that accurate either."
Parrish snorted. "Maybe on Earth, but around here it certainly is, thanks to what the major and the colonel get up to."
Cam's finely tuned senses pinged on that comment. Until recently there had been only one colonel around, and when it came to John there was no telling what sort of mischief 'get up to' could imply. It could be anything from short-sheeting McKay's bed to vaporizing a planet or two. Lorne could usually be counted on to act as a damper, but if he did throw in with John, his planning abilities and innocent looks meant there would be even greater and wackier hijinks afoot.
"What's that mean?" Cam casually asked.
"I mean the main criteria they use to choose ... wait." Parrish tilted his head and looked at Cam curiously. "You don't know what they do?"
"No, but I get the feeling that I probably should."
"It's not exactly common knowledge, even among those they've helped. I only know because I'm Evan's partner. I'm not sure I should say anything more."
"Come on, David. I'm going to help you out, do me a return favor and tell me."
"I'll just say that they're the main reason the straight women of the expedition have trouble getting dates despite the gender disparity. You'll need to ask them for more."
"Thanks, I think. If you'll excuse me, I have a pair of subordinates to interrogate. Get well soon."
"You're welcome, Cameron. Remember: video!"
"Don't worry, you'll get one." Cam was halfway out of the infirmary before he realized that he had just committed himself to making amateur threesome porn. Never mind the way the city seemed to be worming its way into his head - that was probably the surest sign of all that Atlantis had quickly and irrevocably made him go native and, not coincidentally, completely bonkers.
As he walked Cam considered immediately confronting his ne'er-do-well officers, but decided that the first thing he needed to do was to take a stroll around and think things over. Now that he was actually looking, the evidence was staring him right in the face. It wasn't that people weren't being subtle and discreet; to the contrary, they seemed to be taking a great deal of care to go unnoticed. Cam had spent half his life playing this game, though, and he knew what signs to look for.
There was a touch between two marines that linger a bit too long; here were two couples who he saw scrunched together on a single couch at the last movie night, each pair touching way more than straight guy etiquette allowed despite a little free space in the middle. There was a scientist constantly hanging around the bedside of an airwoman with a broken leg; here were two lieutenants following each other around at all hours of the day with puppy love in their eyes. A list started to assemble in Cam's head: Thomas Kemp, Dusty Mehra, Tim Hendricks, Alicia Vega, maybe a dozen others, and that was just the ones he was relatively sure of after fifteen minutes' consideration.
None of it was conclusive, of course; Atlantis was the sort of place that could inspire incredibly close friendships. Cam was pretty sure he wasn't imagining things, though, and it seemed a bit much to be purely coincidence.
With all that in mind, Cam made his way over to the HQ tower. He found John and Lorne hard at work inside John's office, where they were sitting on the couch and looking over a diagram of a jumper that was spread across the coffee table. Lorne was slightly hunched in on himself and looked exhausted, for reasons that Cam could guess. John was just John, no different than any other day.
"I really don't think a full-grown cow's going to fit inside," Lorne was saying. "Not with enough room to be comfortable, at least, and an uncomfortable cow is a cranky, dangerous cow."
"Come on, cows are gentle, peaceful creatures," John argued. "These might be small ones, too."
"Sir, have you ever actually been near a cow?"
"No, but they're basically just fat, dumb horses, right?"
"No. No, they're really not." Lorne rubbed his forehead before looking up at Cam and pleading, "Please tell me you're here to talk about something besides relocating livestock, sir."
Cam sat down in an armchair across from them. "Yeah, I am. Do either one of you want to explain why our battalion is queer as a three dollar bill?"
John and Lorne looked at each other like kids caught helping themselves to the cookie jar.
"I really don't know what you mean, Cam," John said.
"Neither do I, sir," Lorne echoed. He glanced at his watch and stood. "Oh, hey, look at the time. I really need to go brief my team on ... cows."
"Sit. Down." Cam eyed them both balefully. "I take it this isn't some sort of cosmic coincidence?"
"Not exactly, Colonel," John said. Cam frowned at his use of the title in private; unlike Lorne John usually dropped it the moment they were behind closed doors whether they were on duty or not. "First off, I want to say that Major Lorne had absolutely nothing to do with this. He was just following orders."
"That's completely false, sir. I was an equal participant in our activities and should share the blame."
"He's lying to protect me from additional charges."
Lorne turned to John, visibly annoyed. "No, he's lying to protect me."
John crossed his arms and scowled at Lorne. "I threatened to give him bad performance reviews and dangerous missions if he didn't comply with my demands."
"As if anyone would believe that. No, it was actually me who threatened him. I said I'd expose your relationship and get you both thrown out of the Air Force."
"He's obviously still cowed by my rank and position. The truth is I forced him to do it."
"Forced me to do it ...."
Lorne raised his eyebrow. John scrunched up his brows in thought. Together, they turned back to Cam and said in sync and completely deadpan, "Aliens made us do it."
Cam burst out laughing. He had to hand it to them, for a few seconds there they'd had him worried that they were actually concerned about how he'd react.
"Neither of you are taking this the least bit seriously, are you?" he asked.
"Nope," John said with a smile. "If you'll excuse us, we need to go measure the inside of a jumper."
"Uh-uh, no," Cam quickly said, his mirth dying away. "You're not going anywhere until I get some answers."
John sighed and leaned forward. "It wasn't really deliberate at first. It just ... the first wave, they didn't let anyone with dependents go, so there were a few more of us than you'd expected. Not a lot, but enough, and towards the end everyone just stopped giving a damn about hiding. Hell, even Bates loosened up a little, about that if nothing else. Then we did get rescued and I just watched everyone clam right up again. I'd have been pissed if I hadn't been about to drop dead from exhaustion."
He stood up and paced toward the window while Cam and Lorne watched him silently. "Then O'Neill was crazy enough to give me command, so I needed to chose an XO, new lieutenants, and a hundred-odd more men. The first thing I see on the list of volunteers is Lorne's name, and there's no question in my mind he's the one to pick as XO. I knew he was good and that I could trust him, and I thought it'd be nice to have someone around to talk with."
"And here I was thinking you chose me for my mad skills," Lorne said. "My ego is crumbling as we speak."
"Shove it up your ass, Evan," John said with a snort. "You'd have probably been my choice anyways and you know it. Which is exactly what I thought, really - Lorne's my friend so I'll choose him, it's not like he isn't more qualified than I am anyways. Then it hit me why I'm closer to him than anyone but you and Rodney, and I thought, 'John, why not do the same for other guys?'" John looked over his shoulder and grinned. "I may have been slightly drunk at that moment."
Lorne grinned back at him. "And of course he took me out to Callahan's the next night and got me drunk, too, before he explained his Big Gay Recruitment Plot."
Cam could hear the capital letters in the name and he groaned, because whenever John and Lorne started talking in Capital Letters it always meant trouble. That was one thing that Lorne's Worst Road Trip Ever had taught them all very well.
John turned around and leaned against the window. "I figured, Lorne's bound to know guys and gals around the SGC, right? He's always been the one people feel comfortable talking too, and even being there a few days told me the SGC is weirdly insular and close-knit."
That was an understatement and then some. There was nothing quite like the fate of the world literally resting on the shoulders of you and your buddies, plus the occasional lockdown and invasion, to foster unit cohesion. It was even more true with SG-1; the sheer amount of trust that everyone on base had placed in Cam after he'd been on the team a few months had been terrifying at times.
"We found a fair number of people that way," John continued. "Since we needed so many men we were recruiting mostly from outside, and we both put out feelers with people we knew - Noel Allison, Jenny Enfield, Ol' Sarge Anders, a few more. They gave us some recommendations, passed word along to some others, and we went with it."
"They were all qualified, of course," Lorne broke in to say, quiet but firm. "They met the same standards and passed the same tests as everyone else. They were the smartest and most skilled people the military had to offer. They just happened to have a little something else, too."
"They do in theory, anyways," John said, taking over again. He ambled back over to the couch and dropped down. "It's not like we ever actually ask people, or that we purposely exclude straight people. Or bisexuals, they're perfectly welcome too. The more the merrier."
Cam shook his head. "And so you turned Atlantis into John Sheppard's Shelter for Stray Gays and Lesbians?"
"And them." Cam shook his head a second time, not so much in disbelief as stunned bemusement. It was exactly the sort of thing he could see John doing. Righting an injustice, protecting his own, and sticking it to the man, all in one package - Cam would have been more surprised if John didn't try something crazy like this once the idea occurred to him. As for Lorne, well, he'd always hero-worshiped the two of them, and if John asked him to help do something not all that different from what they'd done for him in a more limited form, he'd follow him come Hell or high water.
"Honestly, people say I'm the idealistic one and yet here you are playing social activist," Cam said. "This entire thing is crazy. You know someone's going to figure this out sooner or later, right?"
"I don't think anyone here's going to tell," John said.
"All it takes is one bad apple," Cam pointed out, although he suspected John was absolutely correct. The SGC had nothing on Atlantis when it came to loyalty. "Or they could change the law to allow gays to serve openly and then it'll be a little obvious."
John smirked. "At which point a bunch of old bastards at the Pentagon drop dead because they realize the only reason they're not all snack cakes is the hard work of a bunch of fags."
"Besides, we've been waiting for the law to change for how long, sir?" Lorne asked. "I'd count on disclosure coming first, and we all know that's not going to happen unless the Ori nuke New York or Thor parks his ship over Washington."
"It's still a risk," Cam insisted.
"It's worth the risk!" John retorted. "It's worth it because Kemp and Thornton are madly in love! It's worth it because dozens of my men and women don't have to put up with the same kind of bullshit that we've had to our entire lives. What's the worst they can do, anyways? Fire me? I'll probably be dead by then anyways."
That right there was another reason why Cam didn't have the least bit of trouble believing John would do it. It was a mix of fatalism and devil-may-care attitude toward authority, and it also fit right in with Cam's growing belief that John wasn't planning on ever going back to Earth for more than a visit.
"Who else knows?" Cam asked, before amending the question, "Or more importantly, who is actually involved?"
"Sergeant Stackhouse," Lorne told him.
"Stacks is straight." Cam was pretty sure of that, at least. The way he had heard things, it was largely due to luck that there weren't a few mini-Stacks running around New Athos.
"Straight-ish, but close enough. So?" Lorne shrugged. "He's the only other one who's directly involved. Of course, there's probably plenty more who suspect, and given that we do a lot of our recruiting based on recommendations from the men, chances are there's guys doing the same as we are."
"Oh, hell, no," John said with a laugh. "Don't get me wrong, I could hug her for making sure the expedition charter is explicitly non-discriminatory, but she wouldn't understand at all. She'd gives us that disapproving teacher look and say something about favoritism and proper channels."
"It is favoritism," Cam reminded him. God only knew what the long-term effects could be on the careers of the men in question if it ever came out.
"So? I've saved the world a couple times, I think I'm allowed to help people and right a few wrongs."
Cam sighed and rubbed his face. "You guys are going to be the death of me."
Lorne glanced at John before quietly saying, "Cam, if you want us to stop, we will."
They looked like a pair of dogs who were confused about exactly why he might be annoyed that they'd been digging up the garden. Then, when he told them, "I'm not saying that," he may as well have rubbed them behind the ears.
"I'd have appreciated if you had told me this earlier," Cam said after thinking for a minute. "Like, say, before I took command."
"You requested a transfer without asking me first," John said. "And then you hit me when I said it was a bad idea."
Cam gave him the evil eye. "John."
"It's obvious that someone needs to keep an eye on the two of you, because it's a miracle that you're not both in Leavenworth already. This is so far past unprofessional and unlawful that it's in an entirely different galaxy. God only knows what kind of plans you had for what to do if discovered, assuming you had plans at all."
Lorne had the temerity to look affronted. "Of course I have plans. I've considered just about every possible scenario for when, where, who, and how, and I've got dozens of contingencies prepared."
"None of which involve prison," John growled.
Cam winced, because he didn't even want to think about what that might mean, especially after the six weeks of exile from Atlantis. Some members of the expedition were already a bit feral, and who knew what might happen if they were pushed again. Lorne in particular could be a scary bastard when he wanted to be. Cam himself was already thinking of plans of his own, too. He had never been one to pull strings for his own sake, but he wasn't above it if it meant keeping John and Lorne safe; saving the planet a few times had to count for something even in the US military, and if not he had friends in even higher places, both of the clothed and naked variety.
That was something to think about another time, though. For now Cam said, "Uh huh. Sure. I've seen what kind of plans you make lately, Evan. Most of them involve C-4 and vaporizing invaluable alien technology."
"We didn't have a choice!"
"I bet that's what you said the last time you blew up an alien starship."
"He did," John confirmed.
"We'll have to make sure to keep him away from the next one we find."
"So I take it this means you're not actually angry?" Lorne asked.
"I'm ... annoyed," Cam said, "and a little bit frightened, both by the possible consequences and by the fact that you've managed to pull it off. But no, not angry. We are going to have a long discussion about what is and is not appropriate to keep secret from me."
"Mmm." John look up at the ceiling so he couldn't meet Cam's eyes. "Would the weekly orgies fall into that category?"
"They would if they existed," Cam told him. He looked at Lorne. "They don't, right?"
"If they don't, then I have to wonder what that time marked off on my planner is for."
"Do the Marines' weird homoerotic bonding rituals count, or are they too soft-core?"
"What about alien harvest or planting festivals?" John asked. "I'm pretty sure those fit the definition."
"Guys ... ." Cam waited for either of them to give some sign that they were bullshitting him yet again, but John just kept looking upwards and Lorne watched him silently. Cam knew there were no actual alien orgies, because he was pretty sure SG-1 would have run into one at some point and they never had. Then again, Pegasus was notoriously freer about that sort of thing ... and it was entirely possible there was something the rest of the team had never shared with him ... naw, if there were orgy planets, Vala would have said something. Probably.
Lorne finally shrugged and said, "If there are any orgies in the city, neither of us have any, ah, personal knowledge of them. There could be some happening in private, and I do know there's a darkroom on the north pier. I keep an eye on things enough to make sure it's all safe, sane, and consensual, but beyond that I'm really not interested, and when I have learned more I've usually regretted it. That is, I might add, more diligence in the matter than John has ever shown."
"That's the entire point of having an XO, Evan," John said lazily. "You do all the weird shit so I don't have to. I really don't want to know if the jarheads' puppy piles are less than innocent, or what the marine biologists get up to."
"I suppose if Cam's really interested," Lorne added, "we could always check the city's records."
"I'm not," Cam started to say, intending to remind Lorne that Cam wasn't the one who brought it up and stopping short. "Wait, records?"
John snickered and said, "The Fucking Ancients were apparently interested in fucking. The city keeps track of everything that goes on."
"It's true," Lorne said. "We can show you, if you want."
"Tell me no one else knows about this," Cam said.
"Chuck and Amelia are the only ones who have found it besides us," Lorne said. "Access is restricted now."
"Thank God," Cam said. "Are there any other bombshells you guys want to drop on me? Ancient sex toys? Impregnation rays? Conspiracies to allow only Trekkies to join the expedition?"
"You find any sex toys?" John asked Lorne.
"Only the ones we've smuggled in."
"That's it, then," John said.
"You're positive," Cam asked again, just to be sure.
John hesitated a second then put on his most boyish and charming smile. "Absolutely, Cam. Scout's honor."
"Really." Cam looked at Lorne for confirmation.
"He disappears with McKay for hours at a time at least once a week," Lorne said.
"I know that."
"Botany is growing weed again."
"I think even Doctor Weir knows that."
"That does seem like everything, then."
"Good. That's good. So here's what we're going to do about this situation." Cam held up his hand even as the two of them opened their mouths in unison. "Let me guess. 'Oh, no, Cam, we can't possibly let you risk yourself too'." They nodded, as Cam had expected. "Bullshit. I was involved the second you started this, because I would have had your backs even if I'd never come to Atlantis, and you're both idiots for thinking otherwise."
John and Lorne hung their heads with appropriately abashed expressions, although John started to mutter something about crashes and Antarctica, cutting off when Lorne elbowed him in the side.
Cam continued, "I'm going to finish what I was doing, because I've got to brief Costanza's team in twenty minutes. You guys can go back to whatever cow-related issues you're having. At some point in the near future, you're going to explain in detail exactly what you've done, preferably while giving me enough alcohol to make it seem sensible instead of brain-melting stupid. Sound good?"
"Works for me," John said.
"Yes, sir." Lorne looked at John. "We should probably ask Teyla or the zoologists about the cows."
"Sure, that'd be a good idea. Go on ahead, I'll join you in a second." John waited until Lorne was gone. "Thanks, Cam."
"I'm going to have to break you of your tendency towards suicidal heroism one of these days," Cam told him. "Because extending 'leave no man behind' to every gay man and woman in uniform is an entirely new level of insanity, even for you."
John stood and stretched. "Here I was thinking you loved me because of my roguish ways." He tried to ruffle Cam's hair but Cam batted his hand away. "I'll shape up. I promise."
Cam huffed in amusement. "Seriously?"
"What can I say?" John grinned and shrugged. "I've got some incentive to be more careful these days, something to come home to."
"That's touching. Almost suspiciously so, in fact." Cam eyed John. "Are you sure you're really John Sheppard?"
"Fuck you, Mitchell."
"Fuck you too, Sheppard. Go help Lorne with his cows."
As soon as the words were out of his mouth Cam remembered the other way they were supposed to help Lorne at some point. He laughed, because now it seemed like the least abnormal idea of the day. Killer robots, telepathic death-whales, solar flares of doom, mind-melding cities, and a Big Gay Recruitment Plot - Cam's entire life was becoming one new brand of insanity after another.
And God help him, he was loving every headache-inducing minute.