"And Talia's got a kitten," Alex tells John, perched on his hip while Cam juggles mail and groceries and front door keys. "Called Fluffy, Daddy."
"That's nice," John says as Cam mutters, "Victory," and opens the door. "What color?"
"Um," Alex says, leaning his head against John's shoulder. "Don't know."
"I'm sure it's a beautiful kitten," John says. He's not actually sure Alex, even after all these months on Earth, knows what a kitten looks like, or even really what one is. He can't think of any of their neighbors who have pets. "Down you go, take your coat off."
"Daddy, help," Alex says, wriggling down willingly enough. John crouches down to help with the buttons, happy just to avoid an hour of trying to persuade Alex that he can't wear his coat inside –Alex has only been wearing his new coat for a few days now but apparently the excitement is only just wearing off. Cam shakes his head, laughing, and goes into the kitchen to dump the groceries.
He comes out a minute later and hands John a thick cream envelope. "Yours."
John takes it, then hands it back, because that's not the kind of envelope that comes for someone whose entire social circle is in another galaxy. "Tis it?" Alex asks, looking up from where he's trying to unlace his shoes.
"For Daddy." Cam crouches down to help Alex, handing the envelope back to John. "Postmark's Canada."
John's momentarily distracted from wondering who in Canada could be sending them formal invitations when he sees the address, which reads, Colonel C. Mitchell, Lt Colonel (Ret.) J. Sheppard & Master A. Sheppard.
"Don't say it," Cam says without looking up.
"It's not right," John says, knowing he sounds like Alex when he's sulking, and not caring.
"He's three, he doesn't need a last name that's longer than he is."
John shrugs, because they've had this argument more times than he can count, and he knows they're both sick of it. Doesn't help John to let go though – he knows Cam's family isn't like his own, that if anything ever happened to Cam they wouldn't care that Alex doesn't have his name as well, but John just wants to make sure. He wants everyone – Cam, Alex – to know that Alex belongs with the Mitchells as much as with the Sheppards. More, probably.
"Open the letter, Daddy," Alex says impatiently, and John thinks again that it's a shame that Kendall, who pretty much instantly became Alex's favorite cousin, is too little to write to him.
"Okay, okay." John draws out a wedding invitation, thick cream card and calligraphy black lettering, and, surprised, checks the names. "Oh my sainted aunt."
Cam cracks up and sits down hard, and Alex starts giggling as well, even though John doubts he has any idea of what's funny. "Excuse me?" Can says.
"If you want to be the one who explains to Miss Blanca why Alex is using four letter words, be my guest," John says. This is, he decides, a moment that might go better if he's sitting down, and does, pressing his side against Cam's.
"Who is it?" Cam asks.
John looks at the invitation again, just in case the words have changed into something that makes more sense, something that he *shouldn't* already know. They haven't. "Rodney and Jennifer."
"Oh," Cam says softly. "I'm sure he meant to tell you."
"Sure," John says. He didn't even know Rodney was thinking of asking her, let alone that she'd said yes and they'd set a date. Alex clambers into his lap, and John hugs him close, thinks: still worth it. It'll always be worth it. At least he's invited, and Cam and Alex. He wonders if that's Jennifer, hopes it's not.
When John's cell trills in his jeans' pocket, both he and Alex jump. "Jen'fer?" Alex asks sleepily, which is a sure sign they've been sitting on the floor for too long.
John digs his cell out, checks the screen, which helpfully tells him it's an unknown number, and flips it open, half-expecting it to be the SGC, who still call him occasionally, even though he's been out for three months.
"Hello, John," in his brother's voice is very much not what he's expecting to hear, because they're in touch, sort of, enough for Dave to know he's back, but only by email.
"Dave," he says.
Cam makes a surprised noise, then swoops Alex out of John's lap and goes into the kitchen.
"How are you?" John asks.
"We're all fine," Dave says, sounding as stilted polite as he always does. "And you and Colonel Mitchell?"
Always Colonel Mitchell, like he's John's CO, not the partner he's been with for years, introduced to Dave and his wife and kids. "Fine," he says. "About to have dinner."
"I won't keep you, then," Dave says, like John knew he would. "I'm coming to Denver for business at the end of the month, I was hoping we could meet for dinner."
John's first instinct is to say no, but he can't think of a good excuse, and his pause is enough to make Dave keep going. "Colonel Mitchell as well, of course. I thought perhaps we could go out. Friday night, if you're not busy. The twenty-eighth."
John still wants to say no, except that, as far as Alex is concerned, family is John's friends and colleagues on Atlantis, Cam's family in Auburn, and John and Cam. It's John's parental duty or something, to make sure that Alex at least meets the only blood relatives they have in the two galaxies. "Sure," he says.
"Good," Dave says, sounding genuinely pleased. "Why don't the two of you book somewhere and let me know?"
This is where John should mention that there are in fact three of them now, but he can't do it – not over the phone, at least. "Yeah, we can do that," he says.
There's another one of the awkward pauses that have peppered their conversations for years, then Dave says, "Well, don't let me keep you from dinner. I'll see you at the end of the month."
"Looking forward to it," John says, and he can't quite put as much mockery into it as he'd like.
In the kitchen, Alex is sitting at the table, eating a handful of grapes one by one while Cam chops carrots on the counter. "Dave okay?" he asks, turning to look at John as he leans in the doorway.
John shrugs. "He wants to have dinner with us at the end of the month."
"Us?" Cam's eyes flick over to Alex, still intent on his grapes. John shakes his head. Cam opens his mouth, looks at Alex again, and closes it, turning back to the start of dinner. John watches his back, practically able to read Cam's thoughts, even like that. It's another argument that he's sick of them having, his and Dave's relationship, what John's told him, what he hasn't. He knows this is easier than the relationship he had with his other family, Mom and Dad and Dave, but it's so easy to forget sometimes, when he looks at Cam and sees someone who'll never really understand why he finds this hard sometimes.
"Daddy grape?" Alex asks, offering the last one to him.
"No, you eat it," John says, and he thinks, God, please, I don't want to fuck this up.
Dinner's not as stilted as it might be, because Cam doesn't actually do grudge-holding silence, and John's still grateful enough for that to fake everything being fine. It's only after Alex is in bed and Cam's making coffee, like he always does, that John properly remembers.
Apparently Cam does as well, because he leans his hands on the counter, facing away from John and says. "What are you going to tell Dave?"
John bites down on the still near-overwhelming urge to tell Cam to mind his own business, and goes to stand against the sink, close enough to touch Cam if he moves a little. "The truth, I guess."
Cam turns slightly. "Yeah?"
"Yeah," John says, trying to sound certain; trying to feel it. "I mean, he took it okay, with you."
Okay is an exaggeration and they both know it, but Dave's still talking to him, so it could be worse. Apart from how Dave calls Cam "Colonel Mitchell," how damn shocked he was when John introduced them, for all that Dave thought Ronon was John's partner after the funeral. John's got no idea why Cam's the one who shocked Dave, unless it's because Cam looks like what he is, John's long-term partner. He misses Cam's family, how easy they tried to make things.
He misses Atlantis, but he can't think about that, or how one of his supposed best friends is getting married and all he rates is an invitation.
"The rest's a bit different," Cam says quietly.
"Better late than never, right?" John says. He has no idea how he's going to explain that he and Cam have a child, that Alex is the reason John came home, but Cam's been pushing for John to tell Dave for months.
"That's good," Cam says, turning to look at John. "Family's important."
"Yeah," John says, thinking about Rodney and the others again. Back before the Ancients threw them out of Atlantis, and things with Cam started getting more real, they were his family, the only one that mattered. They still email him, and he can't believe no-one told him about the wedding.
"Hey." Cam touches his wrist, and John looks up, Cam's blue eyes and worried face. He knows Cam's figured it out. He always does. "We love you, okay?"
"I know," John says. It's ridiculous to be this hurt by it, but he is, can't help it. He pushes away from the counter until he's leaning his forehead on Cam's shoulder, and says, "Me too."
John hadn't intended to introduce Cam and Dave - well, ever, if he was being honest with himself. But on the odd occasions he'd thought about it, he definitely hadn't planned for it to be while Atlantis was sitting off the coast of San Francisco and John himself had a broken arm and two black eyes.
"You look really bad," Cam said, handing John a coffee mug when he stumbled into the apartment kitchen, not quite seeing double, but everything blurred slightly. "You should still be in bed. Actually, you should probably still be in a hospital bed."
John shrugged and regretted it – too easy to forget about his bruises when his arm kept reminding him it was broken, but major injuries weren't the only side effect of getting into an argument off-world and then falling down a short but steep cliff. "Promised Dave I'd have lunch with him and the kids. I haven't seen them since…" The funeral, but he didn't want to think about that, not when he was about to see Dave again for the first time since then.
He tried to pick up the butter knife and missed, twice.
"Yeah, you're definitely fit to be roaming the streets alone. You'll be lucky not to come home with another head injury."
John wouldn't admit it to anyone, but he was pretty sure the way Cam said 'home' about the apartment was a big part of why he said yes when Cam offered to at least drive him into the city to meet his family.
When the waiter showed the two of them to Dave's table in an unsurprisingly nice restaurant, Dave was the only person there. He was halfway to his feet when he froze, taking in John's sling, his swollen eyes, and maybe Cam standing next to him as well. In Denver, they weren't exactly safe, but John's injuries gave them plausible deniability, and John wanted Cam close too much to point it out.
"What – are you all right?"
"Looks worse than it is," John lied. Cam had been right, he should have stayed home, but he was supposed to be trying harder with Dave. "Where's everyone else?"
"What happened to you?" Dave demanded. "I thought you weren’t supposed to be – aren't you based in the US these days?"
"It's classified," John said, trying to make it sound apologetic, but prepared for the way Dave sighed like John was just being difficult, same as he had after the replicator thing. "Can we sit down?"
"He's lying about it looking worse than it is," Cam put in. "Can you make sure he takes his painkillers in about an hour?"
"I'm not a child," John said, half-turning to face Cam so it wouldn't be quite so obvious that he really didn't want to turn his head. "I don't need you or my brother to babysit me."
"You forget I know your doctors and your friends. You do need a babysitter, at the very least. Possibly a full-time minder."
John rolled his eyes, which made the whole word swirl sickeningly around him, Cam's hand on his arm the only thing keeping him from falling over in front of his brother in the middle of a nice restaurant full of well-dressed families. Lunch was not going to be fun, especially when his nieces arrived, and Andrea with her sympathetic curiosity.
"Sit down," Cam said firmly, guiding John into a seat.
"Sorry, you're…?" Dave was still standing, on a level with Cam, who had one hand on John's shoulder.
"Cameron Mitchell." Cam held out his hand. "Call me Cam."
"Good to meet you…"
"Colonel." Even with Cam standing behind him, John could picture the polite, charming smile he'd be wearing. "But really, Cam is fine."
"Why don't you join us, Colonel? We have an extra chair, and any friend of John's."
John really didn't know what came over him. Maybe it was Dave's cool, slightly distant confidence, or maybe it was the pain, the stupidity of his injuries. Or maybe it was that he'd been pretty much living with Cam in the three weeks since Atlantis touched down on Earth, and starting to remember how much he hadn't wanted to leave last time. "He's not a friend. He's my partner."
"I thought it was police officers who had partners, not soldiers." John was pretty sure Dave was being deliberately dense, but no-one did mildly confused as well as Dave, making it impossible to tell.
"We're based out of the same unit," Cam said, a little strangled, and fuck, they'd talked a little about coming out to John's brother, but John had never let them reach a decision. Now he'd pretty much outed Cam without his permission.
"He's my partner the way you thought Ronon was," he said, the words coming almost unbidden, uncontrolled from his mouth.
"I –" John couldn't have missed the way Dave's face shuttered as he looked between the two of them, at Cam's hand on John's shoulder. "Well, then, Colonel, you should definitely join us." Some of the warmth had faded from Dave's voice, for all that he was clearly trying to hide it. John reached for his glass of water, managing to get his hand around it on the first try. It didn't help with the lump in his throat, or the disappointment churning his stomach. What the hell had he been thinking? Dave was just like Dad when it came to this, whatever assumptions he'd made about Ronon at the funeral.
"I'm sure you'd rather have your family to yourself. You don't want me muscling in." Cam's tone was warm, but his hand on John's shoulder was firm, like he didn't actually plan on letting go.
"You're not muscling in, I'm inviting you." Dave pushed the chair next to John's back from the table. "Please, Colonel, I insist. I'm sure Andrea would love to meet you, and the girls. They don't get to meet many of John's, um, friends."
Friends. John wrapped both hands around his water glass so he wouldn't be tempted to just grab Cam's hand, say to hell with this and make a run for it. Dave was his brother, the only blood family he had left. However much he might want to, he couldn't actually bring himself to cut that one last tie as well. Dave would just have to learn to get used to Cam.
The invitation sits on the bookcase, leaning against John's copy of The Fellowship of the Ring, for a week, while Cam trains his pilots and Alex learns to write his name, and John goes back to school. He's not a real teacher, not even a real teacher in training, a quick reminder of how slowly the wheel of bureaucracy turns on Earth, but he loves it more than he has anything since the best days in Atlantis. He's already starting to think of the kids he works with, remedial math students mostly, as his, weirdly similar to his marines on Atlantis, from the bad jokes to the way they push to see how far he'll let them go. It's better than the SGC was, and not just for the work. Even knowing he wanted to leave, he didn't know how much he needed that extra distance from Atlantis until he had it.
Thursday afternoon, he's out early, because the class has a test for which he's not required, which means he gets to swing by the base and pick up Cam and Alex. Cam's expecting him, since John dropped them off that morning, but Alex isn't. John spots him right away, on his knees at the bright yellow coloring table in the corner, Miss Blanca and a couple of kids John doesn't recognize with him. He's got his head down, busy with something, and John's hit all over again by the fact that this is his child: his and Cam's, that they're actually doing okay at this. It's by turns amazing and terrifying, and John's still so, so grateful that Cam didn't turn them away.
Miss Blanca looks up then, spots him and nudges Alex, who scrambles to his feet as soon as he sees John. John crouches down to hug him, lets Alex take his hand and lead him back over.
"Mr. Sheppard," Miss Blanca says, smiling up at him until he crouches down to everyone else's level. It still sounds weird.
"Hi," John says. "He been okay?"
She nods, but her smile's fading, and John's stomach lurches with fear. "He's been his usual charming self," she says. "But I'd like to show you something."
Alex is back to intently coloring his picture – John's not actually sure what it is, maybe the three of them, maybe the giraffe they saw at the zoo again a few weeks ago – but he squeezes John's hand harder when John shifts to stand up. "Daddy?"
"I'm just going with Miss Blanca for a minute. I'll be right back."
"Promise?" Alex looks at him, eyes wide and worried in a way he hasn't been for months.
"I promise," John says. "Right back, and we'll go get Dad and go for ice cream. You can pick, okay?"
"Finish your drawing, Alex," Miss Blanca says, rubbing his shoulder quickly.
John's been in her office a couple of times with Cam, and it's exactly like he would have expected a day care worker's office to be before he set foot in it: lots of children's drawings, yellow walls, even comfortable chairs on the visitors' side of her desk. She waves him into one and takes the other, shuffling through a stack of paintings. John really wishes Cam was here – he's gotten used to getting bad news in company.
"I don't know if this is anything to worry about," Miss Blanca says, selecting a drawing from the stack. "But Alex drew this today."
Alex is definitely not going to be winning any art competitions, but the drawing's still recognizable as a stargate. "Huh," John says softly, not sure what else to say. Other than the dreams, which have faded away lately, Alex has never shown any sign of remembering life before Atlantis. John's not even sure he really remembers the people on Atlantis, beyond their presence in emails. Apparently, he's been wrong.
"I wouldn't have said anything," Miss Blanca says. "But it's not Alex's usual style, and when I asked him about it, he said it was his old home."
John can't stop looking at the picture. "You know kids and their imaginations," he offers.
"Yes," Miss Blanca says slowly. "But Alex typically doesn't have this kind of imagination. He told me that you came through that ring to get him."
John's always assumed that Alex doesn't know that. "Some of our friends like to tell him stories," he tries. It's even true; they just don't tell stories from the SGC.
"All right," Miss Blanca says. "It's not my place to tell you how to raise your child, of course, but you might think about asking your friends to be more cautious in what they tell him. Children often have trouble distinguishing stories from reality."
John nods, looking up from Alex's picture. "Do you mind if I keep this?"
"Of course not," Miss Blanca says, smiling. "I'll let you get on."
John folds the picture into his pocket as he walks out, the gate on the inside. He remembers asking Cam, early on, how they'd stop Alex from forgetting his mom, his life before the Wraith came. Apparently, he needn't have worried.
Alex is sitting cross-legged by the table, watching the door, and he scrambles up when he catches sight of John, arms going up. John swings him up, even though Alex never usually wants to be carried in day care, and Alex presses his face into John's neck. "It's all right," John says quietly. "Let's go get Dad."
Alex nods against his shoulder. He's too quiet, where there should be a babble of stories about his day, and it worries John, even more so when he has to pry Alex's arms from his neck to get him in his coat. "Whale?" Alex asks.
John digs in Alex's little backpack and pulls out the toy.
"Whale," Alex says again, gripping it tight as John picks him up again. "Dad?"
"We'll go get him," John says again. "And see his planes, would you like that?"
Alex thinks about it for a bit, then nods.
"Okay, then," John says.
They find Cam outside the hanger door, chatting to Lieutenant Muchina, one of his newest gang of trainees. She spots them first and waves, saying something to Cam, who turns immediately, already grinning. John doesn't care how dumb it is, he feels better seeing Cam.
"Later, sir," Muchina says as they get closer. "Colonel Sheppard. Alex."
Alex lifts his head a little to look at her, and she smiles at him, reaching out to touch the whale's fin. "He's cute," she says.
"Whale," Alex says.
"I see that," Muchina agrees solemnly. "He looking after you in day care?" Alex nods. "That's good." She taps Alex's hand. "See you later, kiddo."
"Bright and early tomorrow, Lieutenant," Cam says.
She turns, walks backwards a couple of paces. "Roger that, sir. Good night."
Cam watches her go for a couple of steps, then turns back to them, rubs Alex's back and kisses his cheek. "You have a good day at school?"
Alex just blinks at him, and Cam looks at John, frowning. "It's okay," John says. "Talk about it later." Cam frowns at him for a moment longer, then nods. "I promised Alex ice cream."
"Kind of cool for ice cream," Cam says.
John shrugs. "It's never too cold for ice cream, right, Alex?"
"For whale as well?" Alex asks.
"Absolutely," John promises.
Alex relaxes over ice cream, tells them about Talia's kitten, which has been a conversational staple all week, so that by the time dinner rolls round, he's back to his usual carrot-hating self. He succumbs to a bath happily enough, even after John refuses to let Whale join him, and picks out blue pajamas.
"What do you want to read tonight?" John asks when they're done. Bedtime, they'd realized pretty early on, has to be a one person job, or Alex got too excited to go down. It's never seemed to bother Alex, but this time he whimpers, crawls into John's lap where he's sitting on Alex's bed. John pulls him close. "What's wrong?"
"Dad, too," Alex says, muffled against John's shirt.
That's less than clear, but John's got years of trying to make sense of Rodney and Radek, he can cope with one three year-old. "Okay. We'll go fetch him."
Cam looks up from his book when John walks out, Alex on his hip again. "Everything okay?"
"Kind of," John hedges. "Alex wants you to help tuck him in."
"Okay," Cam says, and John knows Cam can see the same worry on his face that he can see on Cam's. "I think we can manage that."
They can, but Alex looks small and lost, curled up under his airplane covers. He doesn't say anything, just looks at John and Cam. It's more than John can bear; he sits down by Alex, strokes his hair back. "Close your eyes," he says quietly. "We're not going anywhere."
Alex closes his eyes, then opens them again, like he's checking. He watches John for a few seconds, then looks over at Cam, sat on the other side of the bed. Apparently satisfied, he closes his eyes again, hugging Whale close. John keeps stroking his hair, until Alex goes limp, breathing evenly in sleep.
"What's going on?" Cam asks.
John shakes his head, gestures to the hall. They usually turn the hall light out, but he leaves it on, and Alex's door open a crack.
"Here," he says, sitting beside Cam and handing him Alex's drawing. "He told Miss Blanca it's from his old home."
Cam looks at it for a long moment, then sighs, sounding exhausted. "I didn't think he remembered."
"Me either," John says. "I mean, the dreams about the culling, but..."
"They've stopped," Cam finishes. "Why now? Nothing's changed."
John shakes his head. "This is when I really miss Dr. Heightmeyer."
Cam laughs a little. "Sure would make it easier." He looks down at the drawing again. "We'll have to talk to him. If he is remembering stuff, he can't – we have to make it clear that he can't talk about it."
"Any idea how?"
Cam tips his head back, closes his eyes. "Nope."
John hated going to culled worlds. He was pretty sure it was worse when they were responding to a call for help and took a lot of extra marines, scientists and medical staff with them – somehow, all the competent people in uniforms just high-lighted the destruction they were going into.
It didn't help that he couldn't shake the sense, however stupid, that they wouldn't be doing this if they'd kept up trading links with P3X 719 after the Daedalus started coming by. Even thinking about how the men had all had to donate what Rodney euphemistically called genetic material every time they visited to trade didn't help.
"There are few survivors," Teyla reported, coming back from a meeting with the head-woman to where John was over-seeing the arrival of extra people. "But many of them have strong links with other worlds, where they are likely to be taken in."
"That's good, right?" John asked uncertainly. He kind of wished Rodney was with them, instead of off on the planet of the kids, fixing their shield generator, again. There was something reassuring about knowing he wasn't the only person feeling unable to deal with the situation – something reassuring about having Rodney around.
"Yes." Teyla nodded, her face tense, her eyes more worried than they usually were even when faced with a culling. John took a quick look for Ronon, found him being talked at by Keller, both him and Lorne nodding along to whatever she was saying. "But there is a problem that must be resolved first."
Of course there was. Nothing was ever simple. "Anything we can do to help it along?"
"Perhaps. Would you come with me?"
John radioed Ronon and Lorne to let them know where he was going, then followed Teyla. Last time they'd come into the town, nearly five years ago, it had been pretty close to late eighteenth or early nineteenth century Earth, streets and small gardens and shops. Now, it looked like a photograph of London in the second world war, houses destroyed or falling down, rubble everywhere.
He wished he could shut down the part of his brain convinced the Wraith had hit the city worse because they'd once traded with Atlantis. It wouldn’t have been the first time.
John expected Teyla to take him to the main city hall, but instead she turned left at a crossroads and picked her way over rubble to a building that looked more like a country house, one of few still standing and intact. There might have been a sign at some point, but there wasn't any indication left of what the building had been used for. "This way," Teyla said, leading him down a nondescript corridor that didn't give any more clues.
The last thing John expected was to step into a high-ceilinged, airy room and find it lined with single cots, a woman in the long white dress of the priestesses sitting on the edge of one, a small blonde girl in her arms.
"Priestess Kana took in these three children when their parents were taken," Teyla explained softly. "They were fathered by off-worlders, and with their maternal family gone, there is no-one on this world to take them."
"They need our help tracking down the fathers?"
"Not exactly." Teyla glanced over to the cots – a boy of maybe five was sitting cross-legged on one cot, staring at nothing, and in the third, all John could see was a patch of dark hair sticking out from a white cover. He hoped the child was sleeping through the chaos and trauma. "You recall the – donations – that you, Rodney and Lieutenant Ford gave when we came here?" She waited for John's nod. "These children were fathered from the donations, and their fathers are likely unaware of their existence. Priestess Kana says good records were kept, but many were lost during the culling and subsequent attack."
"And now they don't know what to do with the kids." John looked at the two he could see again, then turned slightly so they weren't in his line of vision. He hated when kids were involved. "No-one here will take them in?"
Teyla shook her head, looking angry and sad. "Priestess Kana thinks that, if they could test the blood of the children, she may be able to match them to the world their fathers came from. It is possible that those worlds would be willing to take them. There are few left here who feel able to bear the responsibility."
"That's good, we can do that. I'll get Keller in here."
Teyla hesitated, looking over John's shoulder. "I believe there is something you should see first."
John was pretty sure he didn't want to see anything more, but he wasn't very good at saying no to Teyla. She led him to the bed with the sleeping child, gesturing him forward as she sat on the edge of the cot, touching the child's shoulder. "Hello," she said quietly, the way she spoke to Torren. "I am back, as I said. May we speak?"
The covers shifted, and the child rolled onto its back, face still mostly covered.
"I have someone who wants to meet you," Teyla said, and tugged the covers away from the child's – the boy's – face.
John expects Alex to dream of the culling again, so much so that when something wakes him in the middle of the night, he's half out of bed before he realizes the noise is coming from right next to him, just in time to hear Cam mumble something again. He sounds troubled, scared, and when John flicks on the lamp, Cam's clutching tight at the covers, his face scrunched up in fear.
"Cam," John says, shaking his shoulder hard. "Cam, wake up, you're dreaming."
Cam gasps, one hand flailing up. John catches his wrist, holds tight, and Cam says, "No," very clearly, and wakes up. He's breathing hard, his eyes flickering around the room, until he meets John's and sighs.
"Just a dream," John says, even though his own heart is racing.
Cam nods, too fast, still breathing hard. He wraps his free hand around John's wrist and pulls him down until they're tangled together and Cam's holding him tight. John can't remember the last time he saw Cam this shaken, He rubs soothing circles in the patch of skin under his hand. "It's okay," he says. "We're right here, we're both right here."
"God," Cam says, and shudders, holding John tighter.
There are plenty of things John would like to be doing on a Sunday morning, but asking his three year old son what he remembers of the death of his entire planet is not one of them. Particularly when Alex is happily crawling about under the coffee table with his soft toy helicopter and a toy train that O'Neill gave him, talking to them, and himself.
"Okay?" Cam asks, stepping up behind him.
"Fine," John says automatically then corrects himself, "I wish we weren't doing this."
"Better than some of the alternatives," Cam says quietly.
It's been less than a year, and John already hates imagining life without Alex, hates that he hates it, because Alex belongs with his people, his mom, and hey, just in case he'd forgotten that, he's got Alex's picture of a stargate and a conversation he doesn't want to have.
Cam touches John's shoulder and says, "Come on, let's get it over with."
John doesn't wish he was facing off with a hive ship or a Wraith, but given the choice, he'd take some mildly homicidal off-world natives as an alternative. He kneels down by Alex. "Hey, buddy."
"Want play?" Alex asks, offering John the helicopter.
"Not right now. Come sit with us for a minute."
Alex looks between Cam on the couch and John on the floor, his face falling. "I in trouble?"
"No," Cam says, fast, shifting to gather Alex close. "No, you're not in trouble."
"Promise?" Alex asks, his voice very small.
"Promise," John says. He moves closer to them both, pulling Alex's drawing out from between a couple of magazines. "Miss Blanca showed me this when I was at school. Can you tell me what it is?"
"The ring," Alex says immediately. "At home."
One more thing for John's list of things that shouldn't hurt but do. He looks at Cam, stuck.
"Can you tell me about it?" Cam asks.
Alex curls closer into his body, reaching out one hand to wrap tight in John's sleeve. "Mama gone," he says, very quietly. "Ships came through the ring and took her away."
"It's all right," Cam says softly, looking at John, his eyes wide and upset. John doesn't regret dragging Cam into this, never will, but he wonders, sometimes, if Cam regrets allowing himself to be dragged. If he wishes all he had to worry about was the invasion of Earth. "What else?"
"Daddy an' Rodney an' Teyla an' Ronon," Alex says, sounding a little happier. "An' Atlantis. We're go?"
"Not right now," Cam says. "We need you to do something, all right?"
"What?" Alex asks, leaning back from Cam a little to look at them both, his eyes red but dry.
"You remember the first time you talked to Grandma?"
Alex nods. "On the computer."
"Yeah. And we told her you lived somewhere else in America until you came to live with us?" Alex nods again. "She doesn't know about Atlantis, or your home. Most people here don't, it's a secret."
"Like Daddy's birthday," Alex says, smiling at John. Alex, it turns out, loves the idea of giving people presents, if his glee at all three of their birthdays is anything to go by.
"Just like that," John says. "Except you have to keep it secret from everyone, not just one of us. You can't tell them about the ring, or your home."
"Why?" Alex asks.
Cam and John look at each other until Cam shrugs helplessly. "We'll explain it when you're older," John says, and feels an absurd urge to laugh. It's the kind of parental thing he'd never have expected to hear coming out of his own mouth.
Cam grins like he's thinking the exact same thing. "You understand, kiddo?"
Alex nods. "Play with copter now?" he asks, already wriggling away from Cam.
Cam looks at John, still grinning a little. "Oh for the bounce back abilities of three year old children," he says softly.
"Yeah," John says, taking a shaky breath of relief.
"Hi there, little guy," Jennifer said when she got to the boy's cot; she'd left him for last since he was the youngest, saying that it would help if he'd seen the other two children get the same check-up and blood draw she was going to give him. She hadn't said anything about John sticking around for it, when there were a dozen more useful things he could be doing, which probably meant Teyla wasn't the only one who was seeing something that probably wasn't there. "Are you Alex?"
He looked at her uncertainly for a moment, then nodded. They obviously weren't doing too bad a job of pronouncing his name in that case.
"Nice to meet you, Alex. My name's Jennifer." She touched his shoulder through the black nightshirt he was wearing, a smile firmly fixed on her face, ignoring John leaning against the wall. "I'm going to check you over and make sure you're all right. Do you think you could come a bit closer to me?"
Alex looked at her, then to the priestess, who smiled; then, possibly because he was the only other adult in the room, to John, who did his best to look reassuring. Jennifer glanced over. "That's my friend John. I know he looks scary, but he's not at all. Maybe he can come and help me?"
"I don't think –" John started, but the priestess interrupted with, "His male-parent looked something as you do," and he couldn't say no.
Whatever else it did, his presence on the cot apparently made Jennifer less scary, as Alex scrambled across the covers to her and let her hold him in her lap while she took his temperature and checked his eyes and ears.
He had such tiny hands, and big, curious eyes, even in the face of everything he'd lost. And maybe Teyla had sort of a point, that his messy dark hair looked like John's had at that age, but that didn't mean anything. It couldn't mean anything, and John wasn't going to start hoping. He didn't have the kind of life that could accommodate a child, not outside of deeply wishful thinking. Alex had a genetic father somewhere, who'd hopefully take him in and give him a family. Getting attached wasn't a good idea.
"You're doing so well," Jennifer told Alex warmly. "I'm going to put something on your chest now, so I can listen to you breathing, and to your heart beat. Do you want to see first?"
Alex nodded, tracking her hands as she reached for her stethoscope.
"This bit goes in my ears, like this." Jennifer demonstrated. "And I use this bit to listen inside you." She touched the metal very lightly to his forearm, making him twitch.
"Cold." He sounded like Torren, a little affronted, a little surprised, and it made Jennifer smile.
"Sorry. Can you breathe on it for me, warm it up?" Alex complied. "Great, thank you." She opened the top button on his shirt, pulling it to the side to slide the scope inside.
Alex tucked his head right down, watching her. After a moment, he touched the metal cap where it rested against his chest. "Listen?" he asked, looking back up at Jennifer.
"Of course," she said, her smile warm and so affectionate, so pleased. John didn't even want to know what his own face looked like, watching Alex be a curious toddler in the middle of all the death and destruction. "Let me put these in your ears – there, can you hear something going bump-bump?"
Alex nodded, dislodging one ear piece, then sitting very still when Jennifer replaced it and held it in place. "Listen you?"
John should have realized that he'd be next after Jennifer placed the stethoscope against her own chest, but it was a surprise when Alex looked at him and said, "Listen you?"
"Don't worry, Colonel, I won't make you take your shirt off," Jennifer teased, offering the stethoscope.
"Thanks," John said as dryly as he could when he was already shrugging out of his tac vest. "Here, right?"
"Wait," Alex said firmly. A moment later, he was scrambling across the cot to lean against John's side. "Listen you," he added proudly.
"Well done." He was smaller than Torren was now, but the feel of his little body against John's triggered an almost instinctive urge to hold him closer the way he'd learned to do with Torren.
One that wasn't helped at all by how Alex stuck close to him, curling into him when Jennifer drew blood, like John was going to protect him.
Things should be better after that, but John can't relax, keeps waiting for someone to ask him who Alex really is, where he really comes from.
What happens instead is that Cam hands over the wedding invitation one evening and asks, "So, are we going?"
John tries to hand it back, then, when Cam won't take it, drops it on the coffee table. "I don't know."
"He's one of your best friends," Cam says, tone completely neutral, and John knows that, on this at least, Cam will go along with whatever John decides, never give any indication of what he thinks. Which would be fine, except that John knows him well enough to know what he thinks anyway.
"Who sent me an invitation instead of actually telling me." John nudges the card to the far edge of the table, knowing he's being petty.
"Did he say anything?" Cam asks, then, before John can answer, "Did you?"
"Like what? Thanks for treating me like your brother-in-law's distant cousin."
"If it makes you feel better," Cam says, infuriatingly reasonable. It makes John want to rattle *his* calm a little, except that he remembers Cam, curled up against John and Alex, rambling about family because he just wanted John to make a decision, and figures maybe he rattles Cam's calm in different ways.
"Not particularly," he says, grudgingly apologetic, and leans into Cam, lets Cam drape one arm around his shoulder and pull him closer. "I used to think we'd die together," he says, offering up things he's never said to anyone in return for Cam's affection, his acceptance. It's not as high a price as he always thought it would be. "Or grow old on Atlantis with Teyla and Ronon and everyone's kids."
"What was I doing in this hypothetical future?" Cam asks, soft like he knows John's answer.
John shrugs, glad he's tucked against Cam where no-one can see his face. "Setting up house on Earth with someone who was good for you."
"At least you got that part right," Cam says, still soft, giving John an out.
"I didn't mean me," John says awkwardly.
"I know." Cam kisses the top of his head, like he does Alex. "But that's because you're always waiting for the bottom to fall out of the world."
The worst part is, John can't even deny it. He spent years waiting for Cam to leave him. The certainty that Cam won't is taking some time to sink in.
"Come to bed," Cam says, sitting forward so John has to move or fall off the couch.
"It's nine thirty," John points out, already standing up, ignoring the wedding invitation in the hope it'll go away.
"People who go to bed early live longer," Cam says solemnly.
"Oh well, if it's for the sake of our health," John agrees, following him.
"Alex sleeping?" Cam asked when John stepped into their bedroom, already pulling his shirt over his head. Christ, he was tired. Even with getting a later start at the Mountain than Cam and Alex out at Petersen, he still came home feeling exhausted, and it was getting so he couldn't really blame it on the adjustment period any more.
"Yeah." John shoved his jeans off, tossed everything in the hamper in the corner and climbed into bed, shifting until he was comfortable, lying on his side to look at Cam. "I'm hoping he'll be too tired for nightmares tonight."
Cam made an unhappy face but nodded. "They're getting better, I think."
John echoed the nod, then reached over Cam to turn off the lamp on the nightstand. When he lay down again, Cam was closer than he had been. John blinked, trying to adjust to the darkness faster, figure out what Cam was doing. Before he managed it, Cam's hand found his shoulder, slid up the back of his neck to rest in his hair, tilting his head for a kiss. Cam missed slightly, catching the corner of John's mouth, then adjusted, kissed him full on the mouth, a lot more than the goodnight kisses they'd started sharing.
"Yeah?" John asked when Cam drew back slightly. Now his eyes had adjusted, he could see Cam was smiling.
"Yeah," Cam echoed. "S'been a while."
John tried to remember, and had the alarming impression that the last time they had sex might have been a couple of weeks after he got back to Earth, when they'd woken up before the alarm. That had been more than a month ago.
Cam dug his fingers into John's scalp, making John shiver, hard, every nerve in his body lit up with sensation. He'd missed that, after the divorce and before he and Cam had gotten serious – being with a partner who knew him that well, knew the places that felt *so good* to be touched. "Yeah, okay. You got… stuff?"
"Stuff," Cam muttered softly, amused. "Yeah, we've got stuff."
John rolled them so he was on top, settling between Cam's thighs as he spread his legs, a gesture that John was pretty sure was mostly automatic after all this time. "What are you waiting for?"
Cam rolled his eyes. "Some foreplay, maybe?"
John yawned, couldn't help it. "I'm tired."
"You really know how to make a guy feel wanted," Cam said dryly.
"I'm choosing sex with you over sleep, even though I'm tired. How much more wanted do you want to be?"
"At least enough to kiss some more," Cam said, already bringing John's mouth down to his, and yeah, okay, John could get behind some more kissing. Cam was a good kisser, in control without being controlling, and apparently the unnoticed dry spell had its perks, if the way he could feel Cam getting hard against him was anything to go by.
John pulled away, twisted a little to kiss the spot behind Cam's ear that always made him shudder. "Take your clothes off."
"You, too," Cam said, instead of the obvious comment about how they were both pretty much naked already. Wriggling out of boxers gracefully was pretty much impossible when they were pressed so close together, but John didn't want to get out of bed, now he was in it with Cam, and they'd done more with less in the past. Anyway, it wasn't like being graceful really mattered with Cam; they knew each other far too well to worry about making a good impression now.
John expected Cam to go back to kissing, maybe even a little fondling, but he reached for the lube instead, dropping it on the mattress beside them. "You want to, or shall I?"
"You do it." And that was another thing that had come with time for them, Cam prepping him while John was on top, their heights just too close for Cam to reach without twisting weirdly. It had gotten to be part of how they had sex over time, Cam not needing to ask about accommodating the way John couldn't deal with being face-down getting fucked. The way Cam looked, his face all fierce concentration, and the way his fingers felt, twisting inside John, more than made up for it, anyway.
John ducked his head, kissed his way down Cam's neck, bit lightly at the skin over his collarbone, a little tanned from where he left the neck of his uniform shirt unbuttoned.
"Stop that, you're distracting me."
"You're a pilot, you can't concentrate on two things at once?"
"When you're naked and we're in bed together? Not really."
"So much for the – oh." Cam pressed again, sliding a second finger in alongside the first, and John's train of thought evaporated like so much smoke.
"You were saying?"
"I wasn't," John assured him, then changed his mind and said, "I was saying, enough prep –"
"Please don't make a 'fire missiles' joke right now," Cam said, pulling his fingers out and reaching for a condom.
John pushed himself up a little so he could glare at Cam. "Thanks for that mental image."
Cam went still for a moment, like he was seeing the same thing John was, then shook his head firmly. "Moving on," he said, and kissed John, fast and intense. As distractions went, it worked pretty well, and gave John a chance to snag the condom.
Cam's eyes rolled back slightly when John smoothed it down his erection, adding a little twist of his wrist just to make things interesting. It didn't get him the groan he'd been angling for; he got that a moment later, when he took Cam's cock firmly in his hand and eased himself down onto it. Cam bent his good leg up, bracing John in place, both of them breathing heavily.
Cam was right, it had been way too long since they'd done this. John took a moment to listen for any sign that Alex wasn't sleeping peacefully, then rested his palms on Cam's chest, raised himself almost all the way off Cam's cock, and sank down again. It didn't take Cam long to get with the program, thrusting up into John as John sank down on him, their breathing loud in the quiet.
John closed his eyes, and for a moment he was in Cam's quarters in – he couldn't remember, somewhere they'd been stationed together, years before Nancy. Both of them had been trying not to even breathe too loudly, terrified of being caught, and Cam had said something, John couldn't remember what. All he remembered was that it had made him start laughing as he came, plastering himself over Cam and kissing, "Shut up, shut up," against Cam's mouth as Cam held onto him.
"Look at me," Cam said, rough voiced.
When John did, Cam's eyes were dark, even in the dim light, and he held John's gaze, said, "I'm gonna…" and came.
John hadn't expected it quite that soon. Cam grabbed his wrists, rocking his hips up as he shuddered through his orgasm. John only had chance for the first cool touch of a bad moment to start before Cam let go, slid his hands down to rest on top of John's, holding on, not holding him down. "Come here," Cam said.
John ducked down, tucking himself against Cam, Cam wrapping one leg around John's thighs as he kissed John. "You going to come like this?"
John shifted, rubbing his cock against Cam's stomach, feeling Cam's softening cock still inside him. "Yeah. Kiss me, yeah."
It felt good: Cam wrapped around him, skin against skin, trading sleepy kisses. Nice. Maybe that was the problem, too much nice, or maybe it was that Cam had come already and John couldn't shake the creeping self-consciousness, the longer it took him to – well, to not get off, if he was being honest.
"Let me," Cam offered, already sliding one hand down towards John's cock, his eyes half-lidded, like John wasn't the only one who was tired.
John caught his wrist, forced himself to meet Cam's eyes. "It's not going to happen," he said, apologetic even if he didn't know why. It wasn't anyone's fault that John couldn't get there.
"I could –" Cam started.
John shook his head firmly. "I'm just tired. Don't worry about it. One time thing, right?"
As it turned out, it wasn't, so much. Sex had always been easy between them, Cam picking up on John's hang-ups faster and remembering them better than most people, making sex something he could relax with, get lost in, the way he hadn't with anyone else except Nancy. And it wasn't like John wasn't into it, or couldn't get it up. He just couldn't get to the point where he tipped over from enjoying sex to getting off on it.
It didn't help that Cam, being one of the world's really nice guys, started shying away from having any sex at all, since he was getting off on it and John wasn't.
It took four weeks, which, considering how long they'd sometimes gone without even seeing each other, let alone sleeping together, really wasn't as long as it felt, before John cracked and admitted, at least to himself, that they might actually have to talk about it. If only because he was worried that Cam, in his attempts not to feel like things were all unbalanced, might actually downgrade the physical side to the kind of kisses on the forehead that he gave Alex at bed time.
On Saturday night, which John had mentally flagged for the conversation, he walked into the kitchen to find Cam sitting at the table, a nondescript black plastic bag in front of him. "I stopped on the way home from getting groceries," Cam said, his face too neutral for John to figure him out. "I bought something. Open it."
John hesitated, but Cam nudged the bag towards him, not leaving him much choice. "You bought me a cock ring." At least it was a nice neutral black, even if he couldn't help thinking that Cam had pretty much missed the issue.
Cam took it back a little too quickly. "It's not for you to wear, it's for me."
John gave a moment's wistful thought to the conversation he'd planned on having, then sat down. There was something captivating about the ring in Cam's hands, even if John had no idea where he was going with all this.
"I thought – I could wear it and you could…" Cam trailed off, actually blushing. It made John feel better, weirdly. "You can do whatever you want, but I thought you could fuck me. It'll keep me from coming for longer."
"I don't know that it's going to be that simple." As appealing as the idea sounded, and not just because when John blinked, he could see what Cam would look like, spread out naked with the black leather ring around the base of his cock.
"I did some reading." John didn't even bother being surprised. Cam reacted to most new situations by reading everything he could get his hands on – case in point, joining SG1. "And it said this can be a bit of a catch twenty-two – that people get stressed out over the whole thing and that makes it more difficult. So they suggested changing things up some." Cam turned the ring once in his hands then put it down. "We don't have to do anything you don't want to. Or anything at all. It's not a deal breaker. For me."
John had no defenses against Cam when he said things like that. He'd agreed to a hell of a lot more in the past than another shot at getting off, and it wasn't even like he wasn't enjoying the sex they had been having. "I'm game if you are."
He'd expected the sight of Cam wearing the cock ring to be hot; he hadn't expected the surge of lust that rocked through him a few minutes later as he snapped it into place around Cam's cock, the skin hot under his hands. "Okay?"
Cam took a deep breath and let it out a little shakily. "You know how I said it'd keep me from coming? Think I might have been lying."
"Long as it has the same effect on me." They didn't fuck this way around all that often – they didn't really fuck any way all that often – and John had started to forget the way it felt when Cam opened up for him, how much he loved watching Cam's eye lids flutter as John pressed deeper and deeper into him. "Tight."
"No-one but you in ages." Cam met John's eyes, and John had to kiss him. They both moaned at the movement of John's cock inside Cam, sliding impossibly deeper.
Fucking Cam felt good; not better than the other stuff they did, but new in a way that most things didn't any more. Maybe Cam had had a point with this whole plan, though John wasn't sure if he should be giving more credit to the cock ring or to the change in position. He didn't really care, not when he could feel the edge coming towards him in a way it hadn't in weeks.
Cam said, "God," his voice cracked, one hand reaching for him cock. John couldn't take his eyes off that hand, wrapped around his flushed, hard cock, the flash of the dark ring as Cam jerked himself off in time with John's thrusts. He thought, crazily, of tandem flying, the way he'd clicked with some of his wingmen, like they could read each others' minds. He and Cam had never flown together, but maybe they'd have the same connection.
"John," Cam said roughly. His cock was leaking over his fingers, pre-come slick and shining in the lamp light. John reached for Cam's hand without thinking, just wanting to taste him, and Cam said, "Fuck, John, please, let me, please," and it was enough, it was too much.
John didn't remember much after that, just flashes of Cam's bitten off cry as he came, Cam's hands removing the condom, helping him under the blankets, holding him close.
"Told you so," Cam said softly against his temple, still smug.
"Have the best ideas," John muttered, already mostly asleep.
After that, sex got a lot easier. Not least because, apparently, what it took for Cam to accept that John wasn't actually going to come every time, was for John to come at least some of the time. Not that John was complaining; Cam working hard to get John off would never, ever not be worth it.
Monday morning is their usual level of chaos and then some, because they forgot to set the alarm and so they're all running late, Cam trying to pull together his dress uniform in honor of a general who's visiting the base that afternoon, John trying to get Alex fed and not worry about how the clothing debate is still to come.
"In your mouth, not on the floor," he says, as Alex dumps another spoonful of cereal on the floor. He's learning the love the phrase, "it's just a phase," except that Alex glares at him this time instead of grinning. "Drink some of your milk," John suggests, offering the plastic cup. Alex takes it grudgingly, not even looking up as Cam comes in again, still buttoning his shirt, his tie looped round his neck.
"Coffee?" he asks. John nods to the pot on the counter and Cam rolls his eyes. "I meant, do you want any?" He tries to fasten the top button of his shirt again, makes a choked sound, and groans. "I think this shrank in the wash."
John gets up, checks the label. "It's mine." They're close enough in size that it doesn't usually matter, but dress uniform tailoring is pretty tight. "Go, change. Take some deep breaths or something."
"Teyla teach you that?" Cam asks, over his shoulder.
"Teyla?" Alex asks, looking round the room. "Where's Teyla?"
John sits down again, offers Alex a spoonful of cereal, which he shakes his head at. "She's not here. We can send her an email when you get home though, how's that?"
Alex shakes his head again. "Want Teyla."
"You're not the only one," John says, quietly enough that Cam won't hear if he comes back suddenly. "We can invite her to visit. Ronon as well."
"Want Teyla," Alex says, eyes filling with tears, and John curses Cam for mentioning her name when everyone's stressed out already. He scoops Alex up, hugs him close.
"I know, buddy. I miss her too, but she wanted to stay with her family. Like you want to stay with me and Dad."
Alex sniffles a bit, tucking his damp face against John's neck. "Don't want to go to school."
"I know," John says again, listening to Cam bang drawers open and closed, definitely wound up. "But Miss Blanca's friend's bringing her dog to visit today, remember?"
At least 'dog' is something Alex has a vague conception of, from meeting his cousin's when they visited Cam's family, though there's a big difference between that puppy and an assistance dog for the blind.
Alex makes an interested sound, wriggling like he's thinking of asking to get down.
"Let's go get dressed, okay?" John says. "Or Dad might go without you."
"No!" Alex says, wriggling for real now, then running down the corridor when John lets him go. John follows, wishing all problems were as easily solved.
Cam's fully dressed when John and Alex find him in the kitchen, pouring coffee into his travel mug and juice into Alex’s cup, so he can be like his dad. "Colonel Mitchell," John says, grinning – his partner's hot in his dress uniform, and weirdly more so for wearing it in their kitchen. Cam raises an eyebrow at him and John shrugs back, watching Cam's eyes go bright with amusement. "Here," John says. "Take your child and get out of here before I end up late as well."
"My child?" Cam echoes, but John can hear the pleasure under it, same way Cam always is at the confirmation that John thinks of him as a parent to Alex as much as John is.
"Our child, whatever," John says. "Alex, take your juice, time to go."
They get through the goodbye routine with none of the tears John was half-expecting, and then he's alone in their house, free to swear in several languages because now he's late too, and he's just noticed a coffee stain on the cuff of his shirt.
The tears, to John's surprise, come at the end of the day instead, Cam carrying a sobbing Alex into the apartment and giving John an exhausted, pained look. It's not the worry John would expect to go with the tears, so he relaxes a bit and says, "What's wrong?"
Alex sobs harder for a moment, reaching out for John, who takes him, trying not to look at Cam's face. Alex wraps around John like an octopus, clutching hard at his shirt, a little ball of complete misery.
"Nothing's wrong," Cam says, looking away as he hangs up his coat and toes off his shoes. He's still in his dress uniform, though it's rumpled now, his tie loose and the top button of his shirt open. "He's just making noise for the sake of it."
"Okay," John says, rubbing Alex's back anyway. Cam sounds much closer to the end of his patience than usual, though John guesses he would be as well if he'd had to drive all the way from Petersen with Alex crying for no reason. "Why'd he start?"
"I wish I knew," Cam says. He sighs, rubs a hand through his hair. "Can you – I'm gonna take a shower, okay?"
"Sure," John says, trying to ignore how Alex is still crying in his arms. It's awkward, but he gets one hand free to grab Cam's wrist and pull him close. "Hey," he says quietly, and kisses him. "Go shower, I'll calm him down."
Cam smiles a little. "Brandy in warm milk. Shelby swears by it."
"I don't think we're quite at drugging our child," John says mildly, letting him go. He gets them settled on the couch and pries Alex away from him. Alex's face is sticky and red, but Cam's right, he's not really crying any more, just wailing. He still clutches at John, presses warm against him. "Okay," John says, feeling a little out of his depth. "What's this all about, hey?"
Alex sobs a little, squeaks like he's trying to say something, but nothing comes out.
"All right," John says, rubbing his back. "You just sit here, tell me when you've calmed down." He leans back, closes his eyes, keeps rubbing soothing circles on Alex's back. He's not wearing his coat, maybe because he was too upset for Cam to bother with it, but John eases his shoes off, and Alex curls his feet up in John's lap. His crying's subsiding slowly, enough for John to hear the shower still running, and then, making him jump, the buzz of the intercom.
Alex sits up, looking around, disoriented. "Who's it?"
"I don't know," John says. He stands up, shifting Alex on his hip, and goes over to the door. "You want to say hello?"
Alex tilts his head, considering, then nods, leans in when John lifts the handset, and says, "'Lo?"
"Is that young Mr. Sheppard-Mitchell?" asks a familiar voice. To John's surprise, Alex leans away again, his eyes filling with fresh tears.
"Hey, Vala," John says. "You want to come up?"
"Much as I enjoy standing on your doorstep..." she says, then, when John buzzes her, "Thank you."
"It's just Vala," John says to Alex, opening the door and heading into the kitchen to boil water for tea. "You like her." Alex shakes his head. "Not today, huh?" John pours a cup of milk for Alex, then finds a tub of Pegasus Blue in the fridge and dumps it in a microwavable bowl – comfort food.
"Now, where's my favorite young man?" Vala calls from the door. John turns around, expecting just her, and finds himself looking at her, Cadman, and Captain Alison Harris, formerly 201 trainee, now SGC team member. "There he is," Vala says, coming over to touch Alex's back, close enough for John to smell her perfume, dark and spicy. "Now then, what's all this about?" she asks Alex, scooping him away from John and into her arms, where he immediately goes limp and quiet. "That's much better. Sheppard, what have you been doing to my surrogate nephew?"
"He was fine until he heard your voice," John teases, torn between being grateful for the peace and annoyed that Vala got it so easily. "Hey, guys."
"Sheppard," Cadman says, leaning against the door frame. She's more dressed up than John's used to seeing her, in black pants and a dark gray shirt. "How's life with teenagers?"
"A lot more mature than life with marines." Vala's wandered away, and he can hear the murmur of her voice, Alex's occasional replies. "You guys here for anything in particular?"
Harris shakes her head. "We didn't want to intrude," she starts, but Cadman cuts her off with, "*You* didn't mean to intrude," and Harris glares and says, "Fine, *I* didn't want to intrude, some of us were raised to call before dropping by," and John says, "Guys," like he would to the seniors when they're winding him up.
"Sorry," they say in unison, then Cadman says, "We're just on our way to the theater, we wanted to know if you're going to the air show?"
"Air show?" John asks.
Cadman takes a breath to answer, but before she can, Cam says, "John, you want – oh."
Everyone turns to him, then Harris brings up a hand to cover her eyes. "Oh God, sir." Cadman starts laughing, Cam, still damp and wearing only a towel, goes red, and John wishes he'd never let any of them in the house.
In bed that night, Cam fidgets, keeps turning over, touching John and taking his hand away, until John, who's actually trying to sleep, says, "What's wrong?" with as much patience as he can muster.
Cam's quiet for a minute, then sighs. "He's restless lately. Unsettled."
"He's three," John says, but it's not like he hasn't noticed as well. "Do you know why he was crying earlier?"
Cam shrugs. "Something about the dog. He wanted to keep it, I think."
John remembers Torren catching a crab in a bucket on a trip to the mainland and sobbing like his heart was broken when Teyla made him leave it behind, so that doesn't surprise him. "You think something's wrong?"
"I don't know," Cam says, worry bleeding though. "I wish I knew why he started remembering his home-world again."
"Me, too," John agrees.
Friday, Maria stays after class, spending five minutes talking about differential equations, then bursts into tears and tells John that her big brother in the marines is being deployed into Afghanistan. John says, "I'm sure he'll be fine," a lot, and when he leaves, all he wants is to be able to call Lorne and make sure everyone is okay.
Which he can't, and even if he could reach Atlantis by cell phone, he can't call now because there's a message from Cam asking him to drive out and pick up Alex so Cam can go to the hospital with one of his guys who had a bad landing. John checks his watch, resists the urge to curse on school grounds, and gets in his car.
He's late, of course, and Alex is three, so what he understands of it is that neither John nor Cam came for him, and he looks at John with huge, abandoned eyes that remind John of finding him and the other kids. It's a little more than John can deal with right then, worried about the marines who used to be his, and Cam's guy who crashed, and Maria's big brother.
"Sorry," he says, crouching down to Alex's level. Alex just looks at him. "I'm sorry," John says again, meaning Alex's mom and the Wraith as much as he does this evening.
"Where's Dad?" Alex asks, shuffling close enough for John to hug him.
"He's stuck at work," John says. "So it's just the two of us tonight. I was thinking movie night."
"I like popcorn," Alex says quietly.
"I know," John says. Popcorn's not a fair trade for anything, but it's what John has right now.
Alex brightens a little more when John turns on the car radio, and incrementally more as they drive away from the base. It's started to rain, and between the radio and the weather, John's paying most of his attention to not wrapping them around a tree, but Alex is talking to his whale as much as he is to John, so getting the general, confusing gist is probably enough.
It's certainly enough for John to get that Alex hasn’t forgotten the dog from Monday yet.
Cam texts John a couple of times while he and Alex have dinner and settle in with a DVD, and John kind of hates the invention of text messaging, because it's clear Cam doesn't know anything, but John can't tell if it's good or bad just from words on a tiny screen. He makes himself laugh with that – years of knowing Cam almost entirely through words on a screen, and it took less than a year to lose it – and Alex tugs at his sleeve, says, "What, Daddy, what?"
"Nothing," John says. "Watch the sharks."
"S'not a shark," Alex says, frowning at John in a disturbingly Rodney-esque fashion. John doesn't get a chance to argue, cut off by the phone ringing, He lifts Alex off his lap and picks up the receiver from where somebody left it on the bookcase. He's expecting it to be Cam; instead, it's Dave who says, "Hello, John."
"Dave," John says stupidly. "Um, what can I do for you?"
There's a pause, then Dave says, "It's the twenty-first, John."
"I know," John says, then light dawns. "You're coming to Denver next week."
"You forgot." Dave doesn't even sound disappointed, just flat, which John thinks is worse.
"I didn't forget," he protests, even though it's true, he did. "We've been -" and then he stops, because he's not introducing Dave to the concept of him and Cam as parents over the phone. "I'm sorry," he says instead.
"All right," Dave says. "Can you remember this time, or shall I call somewhere?"
"I'll write myself a note," John says dryly. "Could we make it lunch on Saturday instead?"
Dave's quiet for a moment, then says, "If you like. I suppose I can change my flight." He sounds hesitant, like he wants to ask why. John knows he won't.
"Great," he says, as cheerfully as he can manage. "I'll email you the directions when I book."
"All right," Dave says again. "Are you – John, is everything all right?"
John wished, when he and his father weren't speaking, for Dave to ask him that, and now that he has, John doesn't even know what the answer is. "We're fine," he says. "I'll see you on the twenty-ninth."
When he puts the phone down and turns around, Alex has curled himself into a ball on the couch, popcorn held close, asleep. It's fast, for him, but this hasn't been their most stellar week, and God knows John's exhausted.
He pries the popcorn carefully from Alex's arm and picks him up, "Sharks," Alex says sleepily against his neck.
"Sure, buddy," John agrees. "In the morning."
John wakes up at some indeterminate time in the early morning, the room still dark, as Cam lifts the covers and crawls into bed. "Hey," John says quietly. He tries to coordinate his sleepy limbs to roll over, but Cam curls in behind him, wraps an arm around John's waist. "How'd it go at the hospital?"
Cam sighs. "Concussion, whiplash, broken ankle. Lots of bruises, but he'll be okay."
John takes Cam's hand, squeezes it. "That's good."
"Alex okay?" Cam asks after a while.
"He's fine," John says, choosing to skip over Alex's abandonment freak-out. "Dave called. Lunch in Denver next Saturday."
"Good," Cam says distantly, already half-sleep.
"Sure," John says, not at all convinced.
Cam has to go into the base on Saturday, write incident reports and talk to his CO, so John's on his own for their planned trip to the zoo with O'Neill and Carter. It doesn't go very well – Alex is fidgety, wanting to be carried, then to walk, then to be carried again but not by John, to walk but not to hold Carter's hand. That makes John even more unsettled than he was anyway, spending time with two old COs, one of them a much closer friend of Cam's than his. He knows they both pick up on it, O'Neill making more jokes than usual, Carter giving him worried looks whenever she thinks he isn't watching. No-one objects very strongly when John suggests cutting the trip short after lunch.
He's hoping for a quiet, peaceful afternoon with his grading, but he doesn't get it. Instead, Alex spends an hour running in circles around the apartment, then another hour bringing every one of his books up to John to show him pictures of dogs and tell him, over and over, about the service animal that came to day care.
By the time Cam gets home, John's patience is wafer-thin. He's itching to pick a fight over something, and for once, Cam's calm doesn't help at all, just makes him more tense.
In retrospect, the only good thing he can say for himself is that he manages not to do it until after Alex is in bed, when Cam says, "Did you book anywhere to take Dave next weekend?"
He's sitting in the chair furthest from John's end of the couch, like he knows John doesn't want anyone close – he probably does – but John shifts anyway, leaning a little more away from him. "I was thinking maybe it should just be me and Dave."
"What?" Cam says, obviously surprised. "Why?"
John shrugs, but he's too tense to really pull off nonchalant. He doesn't even know that this is what he really wants. "He's not going to take it very well. It might be better if Alex isn't there."
"Just Alex?" Cam asks, too damn perceptive, like always.
"He still calls you Colonel Mitchell," John says.
"So?" Cam asks. "He still invited me to dinner, he can't hate me that much."
"He can when he finds out we've got Alex."
Cam frowns for a moment, then blinks, understanding dawning. "You're hoping that if we're not there, you won't have to tell him."
"That's not -" John starts, except it is true, kind of. Like how he avoided telling Dave about Cam for as long as he could. "Look, he's not like your family."
"He's still your brother," Cam says, calm as ever, and it's one of the things John loves him for, but right now, it grates on every last nerve.
"I hardly see him," he says. "Maybe it doesn't matter if he knows."
Cam's expression shuts down, instantly. "You ashamed of Alex, or just of shacking up with another guy to raise him?" he asks, soft and expressionless.
It hits John hard, a sharp, raw hurt that has him out of his seat before he's even thought about it. "Screw you," he says, self-defense, and walks out, barely stopping to shove his feet into his sneakers.
Cam doesn't come after him.
John makes it all the way to the ground floor, nearly out of the front door before he remembers that he doesn't have his keys. He lets the door swing closed again and just stands there, some of his anger ebbing away.
The thing is, John's never been ashamed of being bisexual, or of being an officer in the Air Force. He's done things he's regretted, hurt people he's regretted hurting, but no matter what his dad said when things got bad, he never managed to make John feel ashamed of what he was. That he can't tell if Cam means it, thinks that John is, hurts more than he would have expected.
He wishes he didn't feel like such a child whenever he looks at Cam's family and feels that nasty shot of jealousy. Not that he begrudges Cam his family's affection – God knows Cam's needed it sometimes – but he remembers before his mom died, he remembers having that.
And he remembers all the days he wished he could just go home and feel safe and welcome, be taken care of, in a way that he'll never quite feel comfortable having with Cam.
He bangs his head against the mail boxes a couple of time, feeling tired and stupid, wishing he hadn't said anything. Wishing he didn't have to go back upstairs and apologize.
"John?" Cam says quietly.
John still starts, turning to see him standing a couple of feet away, baby monitor in one hand, the other tucked in the pocket of his jeans. He's radiating caution, like he's not sure if John will snap again.
"I don't have my keys," John says.
"I know," Cam says, smiling a little as he draws John's familiar Disney Atlantis key fob from his pocket. "You want them?"
John looks at the baby monitor in Cam's hand, then his keys. "No," he says, feeling small and stupid. "No, I'll come back."
Cam's smile widens a little, but he stays the same careful distance from John all the way back to their apartment. John goes into Alex's bedroom, needing to check, even though Alex can't have been alone for more than a couple of minutes. Alex, of course, is curled under the covers, fast asleep, and John wonders, doesn't know why he hasn't before, if Dave did this with his girls, when they were Alex's age. If his wife, Andrea, did.
John's sure that they did, and that makes it oddly easier to go back out to where Cam's making tea in the kitchen. He turns, obviously hearing John's footsteps, looking like he's going to speak, so John gets in there first, says, "I'm sorry for before."
"Okay," Cam says, still wary.
John shoves his hands into his pockets, looks at his socked feet. "If anything happened to you or Alex – he's all the family I've got. I don't want to lose him."
Cam crosses to him slowly, touches John's elbow, then, when John doesn't pull away, wraps his arms around John and draws him close. "He's not all the family you've got," Cam says in his ear, and John's so glad he didn't touch the first part, because Alex was the good kind of didn't-see-it-coming, but the best part of twenty years in the military have proved how unlikely the good kind is. "My family – they'd still be yours, even if I wasn't there."
John makes a noise that even he isn't sure of the meaning of.
"Your friends in Atlantis," Cam says. "Sam, Laura, Vala. Teal'c. O'Neill. The school. You're not going to be on your own again."
John shivers, remembers being flown into Antarctica, still numb from Afghanistan and Holland.
Cam holds him closer. "This isn't going to end like that," he says. "Dave'll cope with Alex. He coped with me." He laughs a little, soft. "Probably better than he did with me."
John nods. "Alex is a lot cuter than you," he says solemnly.
"That's what I'm saying," Cam agrees.
The sound of his door chime woke John from the light doze he'd managed to slip into, his heart beat racing as fading adrenaline surged again. Lorne, who'd been off-world for the whole hive attack, had pretty much sent John and Teldy to bed, promising that he could run things for twenty-four hours and would only wake them in an emergency.
He swiped open the door with one hand, fumbling his ear piece into place with the other, trying to remember who might be able to take Alex while he went to – And found himself face to face with Rodney, dressed in jeans and a long-sleeved shirt that pretty much screamed off-duty.
"Did I wake you?"
"I haven't slept in fifty hours, Rodney, yeah, you woke me." Then, because he had to be sure, "We're not under attack again?"
"No. If we were, I think I'd have slightly more pressing things to do than come knocking at your door to let you know personally." Rodney sighed, looked almost as exhausted as John felt. "Teyla and Ronon have gone to the mainland to check in on Kanaan and Torren. I was hoping you had beer. It's stopped raining, finally, we could go onto the pier.
"I've got beer, but you have to drink it here. And try not to make too much noise."
"Why – Oh." John stepped back, letting Rodney see Alex curled up small at the head of the bed, fast asleep, one hand clutched in the blanket he and John had both been sleeping under before Rodney woke John. "I thought he was – I didn't think he slept here."
John swiped the control to close the door and dug out a beer for Rodney, contemplating his own before deciding it wasn't a good idea in light of what was coming. "He doesn't." He moved over to sit on the bed, stroking Alex's hair back from his forehead. My son. It still didn't feel real, even two weeks after Jennifer had run the DNA tests and confirmed it.
"I always wondered if the child of a natural gene carrier would have some kind of innate connection to the city," Rodney said, taking his usual seat on the cream leather chair against the outside wall, his face expectant.
"He doesn't have the gene."
"Really." Rodney's face turned speculative, and John added quickly, "You're not giving him the synthetic version, either."
"Think what he could learn to do, though, being able to interact with Ancient technology from such an early age. We could start him with things we'd already confirmed as non-lethal. Actually, Miko thought she'd found a nursery just last week, full of things that lit up and played music. He'd probably love it, we could try next week –"
"No," John said, too sharply, aware of the protective way he'd curled one hand over Alex's shoulder, like Rodney was going to grab him and run off to experiment on him.
Rodney slumped a little. "It was just a thought. If he's going to stay here, he's going to need toys, and it would be a lot easier than trading for them. Well, unless Teyla has any hand-me-downs from Torren, I suppose."
"He's not," John said, a little surprised to hear the words coming out of his own mouth, even though he'd pretty much made his decision already.
"No, I suppose not. Torren's very attached to his toys, after all."
"Not Torren," John said, holding onto his patience as well as he could. They'd all gone too long without sleep, and it wasn't Rodney's fault that John wasn't being clear. "Alex isn't staying here. It's not safe."
He didn't think he'd ever forget the moment, ten hours into the attack, when the shield failed, just for a handful of seconds, and all he could think was that Alex was down in the infirmary with the med staff and no military to keep him safe if the wraith beamed in there. It had taken every ounce of self-control he had not to run down there and check on him.
"That’s probably wise," Rodney agreed. "I could talk to Jeannie, she can probably recommend a good adoption agency, if the SGC doesn't have one on speed-dial."
"He won't need an adoption agency." John took a deep breath, forced himself to meet Rodney's eyes. "I'm going with him. He's going with me."
He wasn't sure what reaction he'd expected from Rodney. He knew it wasn't for him to look back at John blankly and ask, "Why?"
"He's – his mom's gone, he doesn't have anyone else."
"That doesn't mean you have to give up your entire life to take care of him. It's not like you're his father."
John flinched, his hand tightening on Alex's shoulder so Alex shifted, mumbling something in his sleep until John eased up his hold, smoothed his hair again. "What am I, then?"
"I just meant –" Rodney made a meaningless gesture with one hand, apparently picking up that he'd said something wrong. "I know he's, you know, genetically yours, but that doesn't make you his father – it doesn't give you some kind of parental responsibility for him."
"Maybe I want it to," John said, so quietly he wasn't even sure Rodney could hear him. "He's the only chance I'm ever going to get, and he needs someone. Who else is there?"
"John Sheppard the martyr," Rodney said, too sharp. "How I was hoping we'd seen the last of him."
John shook his head, not knowing how to put into words how much he'd wanted to believe Alex was his – how much it both hurt and felt amazing when Alex came to him to be hugged or comforted. "I'm not being a martyr, I'm being selfish. I want this. I want him to be my son, I want to be his dad."
Rodney was quiet for a long moment, the kind of quiet that usually meant he was rearranging emotional information in his head, rather than the loud figuring out that always accompanied new scientific information. "That doesn't mean you have to leave Atlantis. Teyla's raising Torren here."
"Teyla lives here, her family's here. Where else would she raise him?"
"So are, you know, yours." Rodney made another vague hand gesture, somehow encompassing the two of them and the city and possibly the rest of Pegasus. John felt his face heat, absurdly touched by the typically awkward declaration of something close to feelings.
"Cam's on Earth."
Even Rodney with his famously bad radar for people seemed to pick up that this wasn't the moment for one of his anti-Cam diatribes and instead said, "Have the two of you ever talked about that?"
John shrugged. All the years they'd been on-and-off, the years of being more on than off even if they were in different galaxies, he was pretty sure it must have come up, especially with Cam's family ties. He couldn't remember it though.
"What if he doesn't want that?" Rodney asked. "I mean, if you leave – they won't let you come back to Atlantis with a child, Sheppard."
John tried to imagine it – stuck on Earth, away from Atlantis and his friends there, without Cam, trying to raise a child on his own. It wasn't a very good picture, even in his own fairly vague imaginings. "I know." He looked down at Alex, still sleeping, and tried to imagine life with Cam and Alex, the two of them raising him together. Not that it would be all blissful domesticity or anything, he wasn't fool enough to try to convince himself of that, but the picture looked good. Looked like something that could maybe be real.
"I have to give him the choice. You'd want that, if it was Jennifer in my place, right? Or if they'd used your donation instead of mine?"
"That’s a little different," Rodney said, then, before John could get pissed off, added, "I mean, I like to think that if Jennifer had a child, it would be mine."
John didn't have anything left to say to that. The world was starting to feel soft at the edges, everything blurred with lack of sleep. He knew better than to hope for Rodney's blessing, given how much Rodney still disliked Cam, and anyway, he wasn't asking for it, not really. Though that didn't mean he didn't want it.
"I can't believe you're actually leaving," Rodney said with a little laugh. "I always thought I'd be the first one of us to go. You know, wife, academic career, house and a cat in the suburbs."
John wasn't going to be the one who pointed out to Rodney that Jennifer had no intention of ever leaving Atlantis – it wasn't his place if Rodney hadn't figured it out yet. "I think a child is enough to cope with, so I'll pass on the cat for now."
"And the wife and academic career," Rodney agreed lightly. He sobered up a moment later. "Are you sure about this?"
"Not really," John admitted. "But that's never stopped me before, and it's usually worked out okay."
Dave's late, and John checks his cell compulsively until Cam takes it away.
"Give it back," John says.
Cam pockets it, grinning. "No. I'll hear if it rings, you can have it back then."
"Give it to me," John says again, harsh, and reaches for Cam, trying to snatch it back.
Cam's grin disappears as he grabs John's wrist in a tight grip. "Stop it," he says, low, with a quick glance to Alex, who's occupied with a paper place mat and a small box of crayons from the waiter.
"Give me back my cell," John repeats.
"No. You're making me nervous, and now you're treating me like a misbehaving teenager. I don't mind you taking it out on me that you're stressed, but I don't appreciate being treated like I'm one of the people hurting you. All right?" Cam looks serious and, almost hidden under it, hurt. Guilt stabs at John all over again.
"Sorry," he says. He feels like he's been saying that a lot lately, far more than he did at the beginning, and he doesn't know why he's being like this.
"All right," Cam says, relaxing all at once and sipping his glass of water. "You're still not getting your cell back," he adds, and that's when the waiter reappears, Dave in tow.
"My driver got lost," Dave says, touching John's shoulder and shaking Cam's hand. "Colonel Mitchell."
Cam smiles back, even though Dave's not really smiling, and says, "Dave," like it's not weird at all to be called by his rank by his de facto brother in law.
Dave sits, glances at the menu and orders, since the waiter's hovering. Next to Cam, Alex is still engrossed in his drawing, doesn't even look up when Dave says, "And who's this young man?"
John hopes for one blind moment that Cam will take pity on him, but Cam's just looking at him expectantly. John takes a not-that-fortifying sip of water and says, "Alex? I want you to meet someone."
Alex looks up, clearly surprised to find someone else at the table. "Hello," he says quietly.
"Hello, Alex," Dave says, grave and sort of amused.
"You remember we talked about my brother?" John asks, waiting for Alex's nod. "This is him. You can call him Uncle Dave."
"Like Uncle Courtney?"
"Yeah," John agrees. He steels himself, looks at Dave, who obviously hasn't gotten it yet. "That's Cam's brother. Alex is our son."
"Your -" Dave presses his lips together, annoyed. "If that's supposed to be a joke, I don't see why it's funny."
"It's not funny," John says. "I mean, it's not a joke." Dave just looks at him steadily, and John wishes he was close enough to Cam to touch. At least Alex has lost interest, gone back to his drawing. John really hopes it's not another picture of his home planet. "He's biologically mine, I just found out recently. His mother died," he adds quietly, hoping Alex won't register it.
"Nancy?" Dave asks, one eyebrow going up, and John can't look at Cam, afraid he'll start laughing.
"No," he says, calm as he can manage. "I didn't know her. We didn't... I just donated genetic material," he settles on.
"I see," Dave says. He looks at Alex, then back to John. "He looks a lot like you."
"I guess." John actually thinks Alex looks absurdly like Cam, other than his dark hair, but he's prepared to acknowledge that this might just be wishful thinking.
"It's good of you to agree to take on someone else's child, Colonel," Dave says.
"I think of him as our child," Cam says calmly, before John can say anything inadvisable. "It's not like John knew him any better than I did."
Dave shifts, tensing up. "I see," he says, voice gone almost cold. "He's the reason you left the Air Force."
Alex looks up then, worried. "Daddy?"
"Everything's fine," Cam soothes, pulling Alex into his lap. "What've you been drawing?"
Alex pulls his picture closer, still watching John, who forces what he hopes is a reassuring smile, trying to pretend he can't feel Dave looking at him the same way he did at the funeral.
"Yes, he's the reason," he says. He doesn't have any explanation for keeping Alex a secret that won't make things worse.
"I see," Dave says again. "I suppose it does answer some questions."
"That weren't answered by my wanting to see more of Cam?" John asks.
"Suddenly wanting to," Dave corrects. He looks at Cam, who's got his head bent so Alex can whisper to him, like John and Dave aren't even there. "I take it he's already met Colonel Mitchell's family."
"Yes," John says, biting off the urge to tell Dave exactly when.
"I see," Dave says again, and thankfully the waiter turns up then with their food.
They make small talk through the meal, stilted and very polite, which John is unpleasantly used to from when they were kids, and Alex picks silently at his food, which makes John feel worse about it than he already does for inflicting this on Cam.
He's so grateful for the check that he doesn't even argue when Dave insists on paying, not if it means they can get out of there and go their separate ways a few minutes sooner. Unfortunately, John's living with a guy who never met a problem he wouldn't try to solve, as evidenced by the way Cam swings Alex up into his arms as Dave's pocketing his credit card, and says, "We're going to check out the toy store down the road, give you two some time to catch up."
John gives Cam a pleading look that he predictably ignores. "We'll see you in a couple of hours, okay?" Cam goes on. "I'll call and we can meet up."
John can feel Dave watching him, the half-finished conversation hanging between them, and there's no way to get out of this gracefully – probably no way to get out of it at all. He nods, resigned, and Cam leans over to give him a chaste kiss goodbye.
It's been months, but John still can't stop the way he ducks his head, checks to see if anyone's looking at them. Alex waves over Cam's shoulder as they leave the restaurant, and then John's alone with his brother.
"Want to take a walk?" he asks.
It's Saturday afternoon in Denver, so they have to weave between people, until they can duck into Civic Park, where the crowds aren't quite so bad. John really means to wait Dave out, force him to speak first, but Dave's strolling along with his hands in his pockets like he doesn't have a care in the world, and John's patience has apparently all been used up by lunch.
"Ask me," he says, not quite looking at Dave. "Whatever it is you want to know, ask me."
"You've been back for months," Dave says immediately. "Is there a reason you didn't tell me about your son when you first got back?"
It's not like John didn't expect that question, but it's the last one he wants to answer. He can't tell Dave what he told Cam, that he's afraid of losing his brother again – they just don't have that kind of relationship – and he doesn't have anything else. "I wasn't sure what you'd say," he settles on.
Dave stops, so John's forced to turn to look at him, see the hurt on his face that he hasn't quite covered. "You thought I'd have a problem with you raising your motherless child?"
Put like that, it sounds ridiculous and untrue. "Me and Cam raising a child? Yeah, maybe."
"Children thrive in stable, two-parent homes," Dave says, like he's quoting something he's read. "Sheppard Utilities has a strong diversity policy and gives the same rights and benefits to children of same sex couples as children of opposite sex couples. You and Colonel Mitchell -"
John doesn't manage to rein in his frustrated hand gesture. "That's why!" he says. "He's – you make it sound like I'm doing something seedy with my CO, not living with my partner."
Dave looks at him for a long moment, then away. It's the closest John's ever seen him come to showing capitulation. "Andrea calls him Cameron," he says, like he's making an offer.
"Cameron's fine," John says.
They walk on in silence. John's still tense, even with this unexpected victory. He feels like he's waiting for the other shoe to drop.
"You know Dad always wanted a grandson?" Dave asks suddenly. He's studiously not looking at John as he says this. "With both of the girls, he was... hoping. He wanted a grandson to pass his legacy onto, after me."
"And he didn't think there was any hope of getting one from me," John says. It still hurts, remembering his father saying, "What kind of family are you ever going to have with another man?"
"I think he would have liked Alex," Dave says. "Maybe he would have – with a grandson, it might have been easier -"
"Don't," John says, his voice tight. Bad enough to know that his dad regretted their falling out; he can't bear to think of what it might have been like to have his father as part of his life, with Cam and Alex.
"How old is he?" Dave asks, changing the subject like that never happened, then, when John tells him three, "He's very well-behaved. Denise and Angela both, they wouldn't sit still when they were his age."
"He's shy around new people," John says. It's certainly proved true since they got to Earth. "You should see him at home, we could do with a net to catch him some days."
Dave laughs, and some of the tension bleeds out of John. He never would have thought he could do this with Dave. "I'd like to say they grow out of it, but I'm still waiting."
"Do they grow out of the pet thing?" John asks, having listened to yet another rendition of the service dog story in the car that morning.
Dave shakes his head ruefully. "We bought the girls a rabbit, that seemed to work."
"No pets in the apartment," John says.
"You could always think about getting a house," Dave points out. "Kids need to be able to get outside and play. Especially if you're thinking of having more," he adds slyly.
That's a sharp pang in John's chest that he can't legally explain to Dave, so he pastes on a smile and says, "I think one's our limit."
Dave nods in sympathetic agreement, sitting down on a convenient bench. "So," he says when John joins him, "I'm assuming you have pictures."
John does, and when his phone rings, only an hour, not two, later, they're still talking about their kids, and it's the closest John can ever remember feeling to his brother.
Cam doesn't say anything the whole way home, just keeps giving John sidelong glances, until John caves and says, "Fine, you were right."
Cam's smile goes warm and pleased then, and he says, "I'm glad."
"Me, too," John says.
The next weekend, after a week of all-dogs-all-the-time (except when it's kittens), they take Alex to the zoo again, in what turns out to be a failed hope that it'll get animals out of his system. They wind up at the petting zoo, or at least John and Alex do – Cam takes one look at the tarantula crawling over one of the keepers, turns a deeply unhealthy gray color, and says, "I'll wait outside."
Alex takes John's hand, watching Cam leave with a worried expression. "Dad sick?"
"He's fine," John says – thankful, again, that they only had human-form replicators in Atlantis, though if anyone asks him to stroke the tarantula, he's gone. "He just doesn't like spiders."
"Like you don't like bugs?" Alex makes the fingers of his free hand into a bug crawling up John's arm, and John forces himself not to flinch.
"Yeah, like that," he says, then, "Why don't we say hello to the goat?"
Alex isn't particularly taken with the goat, but his eyes get huge and sad when it's time to leave the prairie dog behind, even when John tries to distract him with promises of ice cream and a visit to the giraffe.
He's still on the topic when John puts him to bed and reads Harry The Dirty Dog, which he practically has memorized.
"We need some new books," he tells Cam when Alex is finally asleep – no doubt dreaming of dogs.
Cam kisses him sympathetically, while laughing at him. "Is it too much to hope that he'll get a new obsession some time soon?"
"He's three, he's got a short attention span," John says, hopefully.
"Or we could just give in to the inevitable and get a pet," Cam suggests.
"Followed swiftly by an eviction notice," John says. He shifts until he's pressed against Cam and can't see the wedding invitation, still sitting on the bookcase and waiting for him to deal with it.
"Funny you should mention that," Cam says, tone so completely neutral that John's immediately suspicious. "Your brother emailed me."
"Did he call you Colonel Mitchell?" John asks, only half-joking.
"Cameron," Cam says. "Actually, I thought my grandmother had finally been talked into getting an email account at first. Especially when he started talking about getting a house with a back yard."
Cam's grandmother, who John still thinks of as Mrs. Meeks, since he can't get into the habit they have of treating the relatives by marriage like blood relatives, writes them occasional letters about how they should really move into a bigger place now they have a child, and have they thought about moving back to Kansas, to be closer to the family? Thankfully, all the thinking Cam seems inclined to do about it is enough to get to "love them dearly, but like having some distance."
"Dave has an orchard in back of his house, what does he need a yard for?" John asks.
"Not him," Cam says patiently. "Us." John opens his mouth, realizes he has no response to this turn of events, and closes it again. "Apparently, he knows a friend of a friend looking to sell a three bedroom place on the edge of the Springs."
"My brother's house-hunting for us," John says, more to fill the silence than to actually check.
"He said you talked about it," Cam says, sounding uncertain.
"Sort of," John concedes. "Did he send pictures?"
"Yeah," Cam says. "It looks nice. Kind of small, but there's a garden out back, and it's a decent neighborhood. Lots of families, near a good school, right side of town for the base."
"You researched it?" John asks, and now he's the one who sounds uncertain. Buying a house is... even he and Nancy never bought a place; between his job and hers, it never seemed worth the effort, when they kept moving around. On the other hand, he and Cam are raising their son together. If – God forbid – they ever split up, it's not like separating out their lives is going to be any more complicated because they own a house. With John's inheritance from the sale of his dad's house, and the money they've both saved up over a combined four decades in the military, they probably won't even need much of a mortgage.
"Some," Cam says. "Dave sent me some stuff as well. We could – I know we never talked about moving, but this place isn't designed for a kid."
"We've been all right so far," John says, defensively.
"I know." Cam's silent for a moment, then says, "I know this place has been your base on Earth for the last few years, but it's not ours. It might be nice to live somewhere that we both picked."
"I like this apartment," John says. "It has lots of good memories."
Cam tips John's head up to kiss him, grinning. "We could make new ones. In every room in the place."
"Only if you want Alex asking why Dad was holding Daddy down over the kitchen table," John points out. "Probably in front of General O'Neill, or someone equally inappropriate."
"I don't think there's anyone it would be appropriate for him to ask that in front of," Cam says. "We could wait until he's in bed."
"Or just have sex in our bed with the door closed."
"Kinky," Cam says dryly.
John twists until he's straddling Cam, hands on his shoulders, and leans in close. "You can tie me up," he offers, low-voiced, right in Cam's ear. "I'll get you some of those fluffy pink handcuffs."
"Black," Cam corrects. He rests his hands on John's thighs, and John loves him, so much, for not making a joke about using rope, for just knowing, without John having ever had to explicitly say it, that there are things John can't do, since Pegasus, because, sure, Cam had a rough time with SG1, but his just didn't include the same amount of tied-up, on-his-knees, at-someone's-mercy that John's did.
"Black," John agrees. He ducks his head to kiss Cam, slow and lush. "And a vibrator." Cam raises an eyebrow. "You can put it in me while I blow you." John shifts, turned on just imagining it – imagining how it would feel to fuck himself with a toy while Cam watched.
"What else?" Cam asks. He starts at the bottom of John's shirt, opening the buttons and running his hands up John's body. John arches into it a little – they haven't done much more than trade sleepy hand-jobs in ages, and while he's gotten way more touch than he'd ever have thought he'd want, curled up together on the couch, sleeping together, he's missed this.
He runs through a mental list of kinks, crossing off the ones that make him shudder in a bad way, then says, "How do you feel about blindfolds?"
Cam plays with John's nipple, looking thoughtful. "On me or you?"
"You," John says immediately. Now *that* is a nice image. He likes the idea of having Cam at his mercy, just a little.
Cam twists his nipple sharply. "Now is not the moment to go to your happy place," he says firmly, when John gives him a pained look.
"I'm in my happy place," John says, reaching between them to fondle Cam's cock through his jeans. He's starting to get hard, so John thinks the whole thing about not wandering off into his fantasies is mostly bullshit. "Be even happier if you were fucking me."
"You're the one who doesn't want to explain to Alex what we're doing when he walks in on us."
John pulls his hand back, making a horrified face. "Please don't mention his name when I've got my hand on your dick."
"Yeah, that's -" Cam makes a weird hand gesture, like he's wiping away the whole train of thought. "There's olive oil in the kitchen."
"There's lube in the bedroom," John counters, already climbing off Cam. He checks on Alex as he passes his room, then pulls his door closed, and the living room door as he walks back into the room. "Okay, you're lucky it's me," he adds when he sees Cam, sprawled on the couch with his pants open, idly stroking his own cock.
"You make more noise," Cam says. He holds out one hand for John's, pulls John in to stand between his knees and opens his pants for him. "Take these off."
John obliges. "Explain to me why I'm down to an open shirt and you're still practically fully dressed," he says, handing over the lube and climbing back on the couch, straddling Cam again.
"Because I like you being mostly naked," Cam says, grinning.
"And I don't?"
"You like me in my dress uniform."
"Well, come on, who doesn't?" John asks reasonably. They may not be the most comfortable pieces of uniform ever, but John doesn't know many people who don't look good in dress blues. Particularly Cam. "Anyway, you're not in uniform."
"Use your imagination," Cam suggests. "Here, lift up."
John does, leaning most of his weight on his arms around Cam's neck. It's awkward, and Cam's finger in him doesn't feel all that great at this angle, but he's prepared to wait for it to get better. "You should wear your dress blues next time," he says.
Cam laughs. "Because what I need to be thinking about when I'm on duty is having sex with you."
"You mean you don't?" John asks, mock-offended. "That was how I used to distract myself when Woolsey was lecturing us on something boring."
Unexpectedly, Cam shivers.
When he doesn't say anything, just keeps his eyes on John's shoulder, John says, "What?"
"Just -" Cam shakes his head, and John thinks he's blushing. "Thinking about getting you off in a meeting."
Twenty years of being afraid of being caught and thrown out of the Air Force in disgrace fill John with horror at the thought, but Cam clearly likes it, and it's not like it's ever going to happen in reality. "That would have made some command meetings a lot more bearable," he says.
Cam looks up, like he's checking how into it John is, and John has to kiss him – he has no idea what he did to get someone as sweet and sincere and careful as Cam, but it overwhelms him, sometimes, how fucking lucky he is. "Ready?" Cam asks.
John nods, lifting up a little higher, then sinking slowly down onto Cam's cock. It still feels weird to do it without a condom; he's looking forward to it getting to be a routine thing. They settle like that, John's forehead resting against Cam's. He closes his eyes and says, "I'm not very good at being quiet." Cam makes a small, questioning sound. "In a meeting, I think people would notice if you were trying to get me off."
"Guess a gag would be out of the question." Cam rests his hands on John's hips, helps him lift himself up and sink back down on Cam's cock. John sighs – he loves this, and they definitely don't do it often enough.
"Think someone would notice, yeah," he agrees.
"Maybe we make a deal in advance," Cam says. "That I only keep going if you can keep quiet."
That's unexpectedly hot – not the thought of it happening in front of Woolsey and his team and, God, probably Lorne and Keller as well, but the trying to be quiet, having to have that kind of control without shoving his own hand into his mouth like he's always done before. "I could do that," he says.
"Bet you couldn't." Cam chooses that moment to wrap one hand around John's cock, stroke him in time with the rhythm John's using to fuck himself on Cam's cock, and John loses the thread of the conversation for a while. "Not while I had my mouth on your dick, anyway."
"You..." John trails off.
"Woolsey does have that nice big conference table," Cam says. "As long as no-one decided to stretch their legs."
John starts laughing then, imagining the look on Ronon's face if he stretched his legs and encountered Cam under the table. Cam drags him closer, kisses him. "God, you're hopeless," he says, full of affection.
"Yeah, but you love me anyway," John says.
"I do," Cam says, gone serious, and John comes, completely unexpectedly, splashing Cam's shirt with it. "Okay," Cam says gamely. He shifts, like he's going to push John off, but John shakes his head, lifts himself up and sinks back down again. It feels good – intense and close, and Cam groans, his hips rocking up into it, his eyes sliding closed.
John's thighs are shaking when Cam goes still and comes, shuddering, and he suspects his knees will hate him for this in the morning, but it's totally worth it for how they sort of slide down to lie curled together on the couch, kissing idly, and John doesn't even care that he's mostly naked.
"We should go look at the house," he says sleepily.
"We should clean up and go to bed," Cam corrects, petting at John's hair. "But yeah, in the morning."
Dave has clearly completely missed his calling as a realtor – the house is perfect. Small but not too small, with a nicely sized yard, a biggish room for Alex, a bigger one for John and Cam, a guest room, even a small room downstairs that they could turn into an office.
John's not at all surprised to find himself making an offer, or that it's accepted immediately. His brother, say whatever else John has about him, knows how to get things done.
John's had, in his nearly forty years on Earth (and in another galaxy), plenty of life experiences, including a fair number that most people on Earth would never even dream of. He's certainly moved often enough that he thought he had it down to a fine art.
Packing up an entire apartment and arranging to move into an actual house, all in less than a month, with a small child in the mix, and both of them working full-time, proves him completely wrong on that assessment. Apparently, he only knows how to pack up and move out when his life can be packed into a couple of storage crates and a duffel.
All of which means that, between the three of them, they're getting a little cranky by the second week of moving drama, and so, when someone knocks at the apartment door without having buzzed at the front, John, busy boxing up books, is not exactly thrilled to hear it. He probably flings the door open with more force than strictly necessary – though in his defense, he does assume it's Mr. Roberts from the apartment above, who likes to complain that Alex is too noisy.
When he sees who's on the other side, he thinks he could have used a little more force. Either that, or used the spare force to slam the door in their faces.
"Surprise," Rodney says, a little uncertainly. He's in civilian clothes, jeans and a gray hoodie, no bag with him, standing next to Jennifer, who's wearing a black jacket over gray pants, her smile fading as she takes in whatever expression is on John's face.
"How did you get up?" John asks, and it's not polite or welcoming, but Rodney and Jennifer are standing at his door like this is normal, and all the hurt of not even warranting a 'hey, we're engaged' email comes rushing back.
"We followed your neighbor in," Jennifer says. "Apparently we look trustworthy. Um." She looks at Rodney, who doesn't notice. "If this is a bad time..."
John's about to lie that yes it is and why don't they have dinner or something – maybe tomorrow – when Alex tugs at his pants leg. He's hidden behind the door, looking curiously at John when John turns. "Who's it?" he asks quietly.
For one unpleasant moment, John seriously considers lying. Except that he tries not to lie to Alex, and he hates the thought of the looks on Rodney's and Jennifer's faces if he says they're no-one. He wishes Cam would come out of Alex's room, and can't quite make himself call out, even if it would be totally normal to let Cam know who's here.
Instead, he reaches down to take Alex's hand. "Rodney and Jennifer. Do you remember them?"
"Jen'fer?" Alex asks, his face crumpling in concentration. "From -" He stops, obviously remembering John and Cam telling him that he couldn't talk about Atlantis.
"Yeah, from Atlantis," John says, ignoring Jennifer and Rodney and how he can feel them watching him. "Do you want to say hello?"
Alex nods immediately, slipping between the door and John without letting go of his hand. He looks up at Rodney and Jennifer for a moment, then tugs on John's hand and says, "Up."
John obliges, and Jennifer takes a step forward, holding a hand out to Alex like she's going to pet him, although John knows she's actually hoping he'll shake her hand, like he did on Atlantis. "Hello, Alex," she says quietly. "Do you remember me?"
Alex breaks into a smile, and leans forward to let her take his hand. "Jen'fer. With a steth'scope."
"That's right," Jennifer says, beaming.
"You bring Teyla and Ronon and Torren?" Alex asks, twisting to look around her.
"Not this time. Just Rodney – do you remember Rodney?"
Rodney steps forward, sort of patting Alex on the head. "Hello," he says, sounding as awkward as he looks.
Alex just looks back at him, wide-eyed and silent. For some reason, unlike pretty much every other kid in the known universes, Alex never took to Rodney on Atlantis, though he likes the memory of him just fine.
"Yes, well," Rodney says, looking at John. "Perhaps – that is, ah, well." He looks over at Jennifer, and, seriously, John gets that this probably isn't going the way Rodney hoped, but what the hell can he really have expected?
He decides to hell with this and turns slightly, raising his voice. "Cam? We've got visitors."
"If it's Sam, tell her she'd better be prepared to roll up her sleeves and help pack," Cam calls back. "Actually, whoever it is better be."
"You're moving?" Rodney asks.
"Alex wants a pet, and we all want some more space," John explains grudgingly. "Dave found us a house."
"Dave -" Rodney starts, then Cam comes round the corner, wiping his dusty hands on his jeans, says, "Why are we standing in the -" then, "Oh," when he sees who's there.
"Mitchell," Rodney says, which is about as close as John can ever hope to get him to being friendly.
"Doctor," Cam says, then smiles at Jennifer. "Doctor, again."
She laughs. "Colonel."
If she was trying to break the tension, it didn't work. They all stand there for a drawn out moment, then Cam says, "Why don't you -" at the same time as Rodney, too loud, says, "Jennifer and I are getting married."
"I know," John says, before he can think about it and apply some tact.
"You – how do you know?" Rodney demands.
"Because we got your invitation," John says, fighting to keep the irritation out of his voice and not succeeding.
Jennifer's eyes go wide, flicking between John and Alex and Cam with a hint of desperation that Cam, of course, picks up on. He steps forward, touches John's back, and says, "Why don't Alex and I take Jennifer to the park for a while? Give the two of you chance to catch up."
John's absurdly close to clutching Alex near and demanding that Rodney not take away even a few minutes of his weekend with his family, but even he recognizes that he sounds pathetic doing that. He nods instead; somehow, he doesn't think this will go as easily as it did with Dave.
"Come in," he offers Rodney while Cam's occupied getting Alex into his shoes and jacket.
"Right, yes." Rodney looks curiously, and obviously, around the apartment, which is half-boxed up, with toys across the floor, John's laptop on the corner of the couch, a stack of personnel files for Cam's next group of trainees on the coffee table. John forces himself not to apologize for the mess; Rodney's one of the messiest people John's ever known, and he doesn't have a child.
"Sit down," he says instead. Cam straightens up then, reaching for his jacket, wincing as he shifts his weight. John crosses over to him and Alex, trying to ignore Jennifer, hovering anxiously in the doorway, and kneels down to give Alex a hug. "Be good for Dad, okay?" Alex nods solemnly. "Good man." Cam catches John's hand before he's halfway stood up, gives him a reassuring smile that John doesn't believe. He squeezes Cam's hand anyway, then leans in to kiss him. "Don't break anything important."
"Me or Alex?" Cam asks.
"I meant Jennifer," John teases. Cam laughs a little, rolling his eyes, and lets go of John's hand.
"Later, McKay," he calls, getting a grunt in response, and takes Alex's hand. Alex reaches for Jennifer's with his free hand, and she smiles warmly down at him.
John closes the door behind them, glad that Alex has his dark hair – it's bad enough when people assume that Cam is John's brother. He doesn't need people assuming that Jennifer is his mom.
"So, this is where you live," Rodney says, when John goes back into the room. He's too wired to sit still, so he leans on the arm of the chair, watching Rodney look around.
"You know it is," John says, patiently as he can manage.
"Well, yes, but I've never... You have. Things."
"I had things on Atlantis," John points out, then feels compelled to add, "Most of this stuff isn't mine."
Rodney nods like John's just confirmed something, ratcheting up John's nerves even more. "What are you doing here?" he asks.
"Jennifer wanted to see, um, Alex," Rodney says, not quite looking at John. "We've got a week on Earth, Jeannie's coming to meet us – she's been doing most of the wedding planning, since it's hard to call caterers and what-not from another galaxy. We're staying at a hotel near the SGC, we just got to Earth yesterday. And... I wanted to. See you."
"Why?" John asks.
Rodney blinks, obviously surprised at the question. "Well, to – we're friends," he says uncertainly. When John doesn't say anything, he adds, "And I wanted to tell you that we're engaged. Um, Jennifer and me."
"I know," John points out, again. "I got the invitation. A month ago."
"You shouldn't have," Rodney says, and for a horrible moment, John thinks he's going to take it back, tell John that he's not even invited. Right now, that feels like it wouldn't be a huge surprise. "I asked Jeannie to hold it with the others for Pegasus and the SGC, until we could get back to Earth. I wanted to be the one to tell you."
It explains, sort of, why no-one from Atlantis has mentioned anything about an engagement to John. "There's such a thing as email," he says.
"Well," Rodney says. "It seemed – I don't know, isn't one's pending marriage something that should be communicated face to face?"
"I think there are exceptions when you're in another galaxy," John says. He wants to stay angry – he is still angry, distantly, because the engagement must have happened a while before the wedding invitations went out – but he feels mostly sad, like this is just more proof of what he lost when he came back to Earth, and he doesn't regret it, not ever, but it still makes him... sad.
Rodney, apparently sensing John's imminent acceptance, if not forgiveness, says, brightly, "Jennifer asked me, you know. She even bought the engagement rings."
"She's a modern woman," John agrees, not especially surprised. Jennifer's always taken the lead in her relationship with Rodney, which John thinks is probably for the best. Rodney has some truly odd notions about gender roles in romantic relationships, and being with someone who refuses to play into those has to be a good thing.
"Yes," Rodney says, getting a look on his face that suggests her modern ways of proposing marriage are not what he's thinking about. John shakes that image out of his head. "She's – you will come, won't you?" he asks, abruptly. "I suppose the invitation makes it seem weird, but I swear I didn't mean for that to happen, and I'll be having strong words with Jeannie about it. Just because she's got another kid now is really no excuse."
John files that bit of information for future reference, but before he can say anything else, Rodney's rambling on again. "Jennifer's going to ask Jeannie to be one of her... attendants, I think she's calling them. With Alison and Katie, because it's not going to be at all strange to have my ex-girlfriend in the wedding party. Actually, she wants Colonel Lorne as well, but I don't think she's managed to persuade him yet."
John can't help grinning at the image of Lorne in a bridesmaid's dress, and when he catches Rodney's eye, he knows Rodney's thinking the same thing. "And I was hoping you'd stand up with me," Rodney finishes.
"Oh," John says, momentarily speechless. He's only been best man once before – Dave, he's pretty sure, asked him more out of duty than desire, and he just hasn't had many friends who've actually gotten married, over the years. "Really?"
"Who else would I ask?" Rodney asks rationally. "Jennifer doesn't have any brothers. I'm not planning to ask Kaleb and I refuse to be towered over by Ronon at my own wedding."
"Carson?" John suggests.
Rodney frowns at him. "Only if you say no," he says. "John, you're – I thought we were, you know, friends. Best friends."
John's pretty sure best friends hasn't been strictly true for a while, not since Rodney started dating Jennifer, but he can't say it in the face of Rodney's hopeful expression. "I'd be honored," he says, because it's still true, even if their friendship has faded over the years from the intense closeness of their first couple of years in Pegasus.
"Really?" Rodney says. "Well, of course," he adds, beaming suddenly. "Excellent. No uniform though – I won that argument with Jennifer, since we have so many attractive military friends."
"Okay," John says gamely, then, since apparently Rodney wasn't heavily involved in the invitations and he has to be sure, "That apply to Cam as well?"
"To everyone," Rodney assures him without missing a beat. "Now, since we're done with the emotional heart-to-heart, is there any chance of some coffee?"
"Sure," John says, jerking his head towards the kitchen. Weird to think that, by Rodney's definition, or maybe by theirs, that was an emotional heart-to-heart. Something else to lay at Cam's feet.
He's poking through the cutlery drawer, wondering why they never seem to have more than two tea spoons at any given moment, when Rodney, leaning against the kitchen island, says, "You've changed, you know."
"Of course I've changed," John says mildly. "You haven't seen me for a year."
"No." When John turns around, Rodney's making a frustrated hand gesture at the general kitchen space. "I mean – you're different. More... I don't know. Different."
"Care to be a little more vague?" John teases.
Rodney rolls his eyes. "I couldn't have imagined you kissing Mitchell before. On Atlantis, I mean."
"Officers don't kiss their partners in front of the troops," John says, instead of saying anything about how Cam is his partner, it'd be weird if they didn't kiss.
"I know that," Rodney says, his tone clearly implying that in fact he didn't. "But you're – I bet you wouldn't go risking your life to save everyone now. Or not so fast, at least."
John hasn't really thought about it, since no-one's asking him to any more. "I've got Alex now," he says. "I'd – for him, I would. And Cam."
"I suppose he would," Rodney says, like he's agreeing.
John shakes his head. "I meant I would – that I'd risk my life for Cam, if I had to."
"Oh," Rodney says. He looks surprised, more surprised than John thinks his awkward statement really warrants.
"You wouldn't for Jennifer?" he asks.
"Of course I would," Rodney says immediately. He looks at John, and something on John's face must make him change his mind about what he's about to say, though John suspects he knows what it would have been. "So, tell me about teaching," he says instead.
"You'd better not have packed away the DVDs," Sam says when John opens the door on Monday evening. "I promised Teal'c The Princess Bride."
Teal'c, standing next to her, nods in solemn agreement.
"I don't think we've gotten to it yet," John says, standing back to let them in. "I don't think Alex will get it though."
"We intend to watch it when he is sleeping," Teal'c says. "Until then, I believe he owes me a rematch at Snakes and Ladders."
"Well, knock yourself out," John says. "There's popcorn, if you want it."
Cam comes out of the bedroom then, Alex weaving around his legs at a run when he catches sight of their guests. Teal'c swings him into the air as soon as he's in arm's reach, Alex giggling happily.
"Thanks for doing this on such short notice," Cam says to Sam.
"I was just looking for an excuse to spend time with your son," Sam tells them both. "I haven't been invited to visit in ages."
"You know you're always welcome," Cam says, like he's not completely sure she does know, and Sam just shakes her head at him.
"John Sheppard," Teal'c says, the three of them turning to him. "Has your child turned unexpectedly to cannibalism?"
"I – what?" John says intelligently.
Teal'c lifts Alex slightly away from his body. "I do not recall him being so interested in consuming my ears on previous visits."
John remembers, sudden and sharp, Alex coming into the kitchen the night before, when Cam had John pressed up against the sink and was, yeah, okay, maybe nibbling at his ear a little. He feels himself starting to go red, Sam grinning jubilantly next to him as Cam groans.
Teal'c pats Alex's head and adjusts him so he can't reach Teal'c's ear. "I think you should cease in this endeavor," he tells Alex solemnly. "Before your fathers' heads explode."
"Big boom?" Alex asks.
"I fear so," Teal'c agrees. "But it would create much mess."
"Sadly, no," Teal'c says.
"Okay, you know what, we need to get going," Cam says abruptly. "Call if there are any problems, we'll be back by ten."
Sam opens her mouth and John, who's gotten very used to Cadman and Vala over the last year, says, "Please don't say anything," before she can even draw breath.
"Look on the bright side," Cam says as they make their way down to the parking lot. "Maybe that got any potential humiliation out of the way early."
"I don't think we're that lucky," John says morosely.
Cam's mostly right – dinner, though awkward since he and Rodney still really don't like each other much, goes pretty well; John only wishes a little bit that he could take Jennifer up on her whispered suggestion that they get their partners drunk and leave them alone together – but driving home, John still feels restless and unsettled.
Cam doesn't ask until they're sitting in the parking lot, looking up at the lit window of their apartment, when he twists in the driver's seat and says, "You okay?"
John means to say yes, or to say something about missing Atlantis, about the weird disconnect in his and Rodney's friendship after all this time apart. Instead, he says, "I want to be able to be married to you."
Cam twitches like he's about to say something, so John takes a leaf out of his book, just lets the words spill out without thinking about them. "I want to invite your parents, and Courtney and Shelby and their kids, and our friends, and Dave now I think he'd actually come. I want pictures we can look back on in twenty years time, and arguments over what Alex wears and whether you should wear your uniform. And a ring so we don't have to keep explaining who we all are in relation to each other, or to Alex why we're not married."
He looks up then and wished he hadn't; Cam looks like he's been slapped. "I just – we have a son, we're buying a house, and people will still treat Rodney and Jennifer like their relationship is more legitimate than ours because they're married."
"Jesus, John," Cam says softly. He takes John's hand, winds their fingers together, and John holds on, hard. "I didn't think it mattered to you."
"I was married," John points out. He's military, he knows how much ceremonies matter, and sure, Alex, Cam's name on his adoption papers, are a pretty big fucking declaration, but he still wants that piece of paper that says he and Cam are tied to each other and that their country recognizes it. Wants it far more than he realized before Rodney asked John to be part of his and Jennifer's declaration.
"It's not like we couldn't, any where," Cam says hesitantly.
"It wouldn't mean anything here," John says. It probably never will. Colorado's not the most progressive state in the union.
"It would, if it meant something to us."
John can't look at him, regretting bringing this up when he should have known that Cam's first instinct would be to try to make it better. "This means something," he says. "The rest is – if we wouldn't be married where we live, it wouldn't make any difference." He's not sure he can explain it in a way that will make sense to Cam.
Cam pulls him closer; doesn't kiss him, just presses their foreheads together. John closes his eyes, feeling bleakly hopeless and overwhelming loved at the same moment. "It'll happen one day," Cam says. "Even if we're sixty – even if we're ninety – we'll be on the court room steps the first day. Okay? I promise."
John laughs and pretends it's not watery. "Is that a proposal?"
"Too late," Cam says. John opens his eyes, surprised, and finds Cam looking back at him. "You turned up on my doorstep with a child you wanted to raise with me," Cam says, so soft. "You gave up Atlantis to do it. You think I don't recognize a proposal when one's sitting on my doorstep?"
John's never thought about it that way. He's pretty sure Cam hasn't either, not until right now, but it makes sense, feels oddly right. "Oh," he says.
"Yeah, oh," Cam says, and that tips the balance for loved instead of hopeless.
John wasn't exactly surprised to open his door in response to the chime and find his team on the other side, along with Jennifer. "Coming in?"
Apparently they were, armed with what looked like the makings for a team movie night, except for Jennifer, who stopped and looked expectantly around the room. "Where's Alex?"
John gestured to the open balcony door. "He wouldn't go to sleep while I was packing."
"So you just put him on the balcony?" Rodney demanded, sounding appropriately horrified. "What if he rolls off?"
Behind him, Teyla choked on stifled laughter, which Rodney didn't notice, hurrying out onto the balcony. A moment later, he stuck his head back in, looking sheepish. "He's fine."
"I know." John had turned a chair to face the wall, effectively trapping Alex between the chair back and the wall, where he could see Alex curled up asleep under a brightly colored blanket Teyla had given John for his birthday years ago. "Thanks for checking."
"Anyway," Jennifer said brightly. "I've come to steal him away for the evening. Kanaan's offered to let me help him look after Torren tonight, as long as I bring Alex."
That was pretty clearly a setup, but since John had been expecting the team ever since he announced that morning that he'd be leaving for Earth the next day, he didn't feel much need to argue. Alex didn't even stir when Jennifer picked him up, the blanket trailing at her feet until Ronon tucked it more securely around Alex, and she left with a quick kiss for Rodney.
A completely unlike them silence fell over the four of them, standing there in the middle of John's room amongst his boxed up possessions, looking helplessly at each other.
"This is stupid," Ronon said eventually, grabbing the popcorn kernels from Rodney. "You got anything to drink?"
"I can't get drunk, they'll run blood tests on me tomorrow."
"Didn't mean for you, Sheppard."
They ended up on John's balcony, looking out over the ocean and the city. John couldn't keep his eyes off the lights of Atlantis; he knew the city well enough by now to identify who was still working from which lights were still on, who'd gone off shift and left their office light on, which of the gyms the marines were using. Not that the knowledge would be any use to him now.
He hoped Landry would go for him working at the SGC instead of kicking him back to the Air Force. Even if he couldn't go off-world – and he couldn't, no matter how well Teyla balanced being a mother and being on a gate-team, he already knew there was no way he'd be able to shake the fear of something happening to Alex, or to him so that Alex was on his own – at least he'd still be part of the SGC, able to hear about Atlantis instead of being completely cut off.
"Here." Rodney shoved an open can of Miller-Lite into John's hand. "If you're going to sit there and look like your pet just died, you clearly need to drink."
John wasn't touching any part of that one. He could have one drink, probably. It wasn't like alcohol at going away parties was unprecedented, after all.
The alcohol seemed to ease things a little, enough that they could sit and talk like it was mostly a normal day. At least if he ignored all the times someone started to say something about the future and then remembered that he wouldn't be there for it.
Unfortunately, the avoidance meant that, when everyone was gathering the trash and saying goodnight, he had to actually say what he'd been trying to avoid. "Listen, I don't want – tomorrow, I don't want everyone to watch me leave." He was going through the Midway station, so it wouldn't be quite as cut and dried a goodbye as he wanted, but he could at least make it as close as possible.
"I doubt everyone's going to come," Rodney said sharply. "Some of them do have work to do."
"Rodney," Teyla said gently, one hand on his arm. "You know that is not what John meant." She ignored Rodney shaking her hand off. "You would prefer that we do not make a fuss over you leaving?"
"Something like that."
"Yeah, well, you've been here since the beginning and now you're going, so you'll just have to put up with some 'fuss'," Rodney said, even putting the air quotes around the word. "Or did you think we'd let you go with just a 'so long' like you're running out for milk and coming straight back?"
"It's not like we'll never see each other again." And this was exactly why John hadn't wanted a fuss. Rodney always responded to being left by snarking at people as though they were doing it just to upset him, and Ronon's sad face made John feel like he'd been stabbed somewhere non-lethal but painful. It sucked.
"Won't be the same without you," Ronon said, sad face in full evidence.
"Ronon is correct," Teyla said. "We have been through much together, John, and although we are happy for you that you have been blessed with what you sought, we will miss your presence in our lives a great deal."
"Yeah, uh –" John knew he was blushing, couldn't quite meet their eyes – "What you said."
"You're hopeless at this." Rodney stuck his hand out, forcing John to look at his determined face. "It's been – I don't know what it's been, actually, but I do know it won't be the same."
John hadn't really expected to get through the goodbyes without being hugged, but he hadn’t expected Ronon to pretty much side-tackle him into a hug while he was shaking Rodney's hand. "Your goodbye rituals are lame," Ronon said firmly, trapping John against him, and pretty much forcing Rodney there as well, since he still had hold of John's hand.
"Teyla," Rodney squawked, squirming like he planned to try to get away. John, who'd been the recipient of more than one hug from Ronon, just held still and waited for it to be over.
"Perhaps Ronon is correct," Teyla said, her voice a little wavery, and then she was tucking herself into the hug with the rest of them and, okay, maybe John wasn't so much waiting for it to be over as he was enjoying the last chance to be properly part of this team.
"Oh," Cam says, coming to a sudden stop a couple of steps into their bedroom in their new house.
John still feels mostly stupid, naked on his back with his hands cuffed to the headboard, but the slightly glazed expression on Cam's face makes up for it some. Also that Cam's only wearing a towel around his hips, his skin still damp from the shower. "Hi," he says.
Cam shakes himself slightly, then comes over to sit on the edge of the bed, stroking one finger under the cuff on John's left wrist. "Does this mean we have more sex toys in our future?" he asks.
"Hmm," John says noncommittally. He still feels a little like someone's going to turn up demanding to know why he bought handcuffs, even though he hasn't actually done anything wrong, wouldn't have even if he was still in the Air Force. Cam's still looking at him, and it makes John want to squirm. "Not that we don't have all night, but..."
"Not feeling so patient?" Cam asks, grinning.
John rattles the cuffs slightly. "Not that much."
Cam twists, sprawls over John, warm, damp skin against John's, and slides one hand around the back of his neck so they can kiss.
John's hard from pretty much the moment Cam touches him, hard while Cam preps him and enters him, kissing him through it. It feels good, like always, except...except not like always, because John can't touch back, and he's never really thought about that, but apparently that's part of what does it for him, because he's definitely not getting there, not even when Cam starts stroking him.
"What's wrong?" Cam asks. He's flushed and breathing hard, and John really wants him, really wants to do this.
"Nothing," he says. Cam just looks at him for a long moment. John returns it, wishing he could reach up and drag Cam down to kiss him again. Of course, if he could, they probably wouldn't be having this conversation. "Nothing, I'm just tired."
"I suppose it's better than 'I have a headache'," Cam offers.
"Is there any chance that you'll shut up and fuck me?" John asks. "Because if not, I could be sleeping."
"I like to think I'm slightly more interesting than a nap," Cam says, and starts up again.
John closes his eyes, curls his hands into fists, and that's better. And it's Cam, who knows him better than almost anyone, knows exactly how to touch him, so it still feels good.
Especially when Cam comes, shuddering, inside him. Even if it does make John yank on the cuffs, trying to reach for him like he always does, and forgetting.
Cam pulls out slowly, starts moving down the bed with the obvious intention of blowing John. Who, absolutely certain he's blushing and unable to stop it, says, "Wait. Can you -" and pulls on the cuffs again.
Cam blinks, still post-orgasm fuzzy, but reaches up and thumbs open both cuffs easily enough. John shakes his wrists free, and wraps his arms around Cam, holding on. Cam returns the embrace. "What's wrong?" he asks again.
"Nothing," John says, then reminds himself that he doesn't lie to Cam. "I just wanted to touch you."
He can practically feel Cam's confusion through his skin. "Are you..?"
"I'm fine," John says firmly. "I don't – I like being able to touch you. I didn't..."
"You didn't like that," Cam finishes softly. John shakes his head. "Okay."
"It's not -" John starts, then tries again. "It wasn't horrible or traumatic or anything. We can – if you got off on it, we can do it again."
"Much as I appreciate your generous offer to have sex you didn't even like," Cam starts.
John pinches the back of his neck, since it's to hand, to shut him up. "That's not what I said. I like that you like it, it just didn't do anything for me. Like sucking my dick doesn't do as much for you as sucking yours does for me."
Cam tries to pull back, but John holds on so he can't. He doesn't want to have this conversation when Cam can see his face. "This isn't an opportunity to do the self-sacrificing thing," Cam says firmly.
"Ditto," John says. "Is there any chance we could table this discussion and get some sleep?"
"You didn't -" Cam stops.
"Arguing with you isn't a turn-on," John points out. He pushes until Cam's on his back and John's head is resting on his shoulder. "Sleep, okay?"
Cam doesn't say anything back, just pulls the blankets up over them, and John lets himself start to drift away.
He's almost completely asleep when Cam, sounding far too awake, says, "How did you even get yourself into those cuffs, anyway?"
They've been in the house the better part of a month, almost long enough to have furniture in every room and all the boxes unpacked, when the doorbell rings one Saturday morning, and John opens it to find Cadman standing there. He's gotten so used to her being with either Vala or Harris that he actually looks for them before he registers that Cadman's alone and, under her usual marine cool, anxious.
"You okay?" he asks, grateful that she managed to drop by while Cam and Alex are at the store.
"Sorry to intrude on your weekend," she says, shifting like she was going to come to attention then remembered she doesn't need to. "And dropping by without calling."
"You know you're always welcome," John says. "Do you want to come in?"
She nods. Inside, she does a circuit of their living room, even though she's been to the house twice since they moved in, then sits on the edge of the couch and looks at John, her hands twisted together. "Evan was captured off-world," she says, and John's stomach drops out. "He's all right," she adds quickly, obviously picking up on it. "I mean, they found him again, and he's not dead, he's just..."
"Cadman," John prompts softly.
She takes a deep breath, visibly pulling herself together. "The people who took him, they wanted his gene to initiate a weapons platform, and when he said no they tortured him. He's got – his injuries are pretty bad." She looks away, and John knows she doesn't just mean physically. "He's been back for a week, and Jennifer's taken him off active duty for at least the next three."
"Do you want to go out there?" John asks. "I can talk to some people at the SGC for you, or ask Cam?"
"Thanks," she says, smiling. "Actually, I wanted to ask a different favor. Um – Dr Suresh and Jennifer both said they don't think being on Atlantis is good for him – that he's not going to get better very well there." John remembers that – how much effort it took to pretend to be normal and fine and not in pain, when he was hurting and freaked out and wanted to curl up in bed and feel sorry for himself. "So they made a recommendation for him to come back to Earth until he's fit for duty again, and he agreed. Major Teldy's going to be acting commander till he's back."
"That's good," John says, surprised. He wouldn't have thought – but then, if he'd been able to legally go back to Cam a couple of times after he'd been injured, he probably would have.
"Yeah," Cadman says. "But he doesn't have anywhere to go."
So much for that theory. "He can't go to LA?"
"Colby's doing a month at Quantico on some training course," Cadman says. "And he's not walking very well right now, my place doesn't have an elevator."
John gets it, finally, after taking way too long. "You want us to offer him a room here?"
Cadman looks awkward. "I know it's an imposition – I mean, you've only just moved in, and you've got Alex and everything – but I thought. He likes you, he's – there aren't really all that many people he'd want to stay with."
It's not like Colorado Springs isn't full of SGC people who get what it's like to come back broken, but John's intimately acquainted with all the ways Pegasus can do it, and he can understand Lorne wanting to be with people who know that. "I have to ask Cam," he says. "But I can't imagine he'll say no."
"Thank you," Cadman says fervently. Her eyes are very bright, and John thinks, slightly horrified, that she's going to cry. He's never very good with crying people, not even Alex.
Who, with amazing timing, chooses that moment to come barreling through the door and onto Cadman's lap, where he doesn't notice the handful of tears she sheds against his hair.
Lorne, when an SGC airman helps him out of the car and into the wheelchair he's using while he recuperates enough to walk, is pale and drawn, obviously in pain. He doesn't even say anything when the airman shoulders his bag and pushes him up to the front door of the house.
Alex hovers between John and Cam, watching Lorne intently. "I say hello?" he whispers.
Cam takes his hand – Alex has a tendency to go running as soon as he's given permission to say hello, and Lorne's clearly not up to being hit full-speed by a three year old. "Gently, okay?"
Alex nods solemnly, then breaks free of Cam's grip and runs back into the house.
Lorne watches him go. "If only I could have that effect on angry off-world natives," he says dryly. His voice is rough, like it hurts to speak, and John remembers the worryingly long list of injuries Dr Lam rattled off.
"You get used to it," Cam says, stepping up. "I've got it from here," he tells the airman, who salutes, even though no-one's in uniform except him.
"I'll be back tomorrow morning to take you to Dr Lam, sir," he says, moving so that Lorne can see him without twisting. John decides he likes this one.
Alex is waiting just inside the front door, one hand behind his back. He moves closer to Lorne, not touching him, but close enough to. "Hello," he says quietly.
Lorne smiles, slightly, then winces and tries to cover it. "Hello, Alex."
Alex shuffles his feet a bit, then draws his hand out from behind his back. "Whale wants to be your friend while you live here," he says, holding the toy out, then taking a step closer when it becomes obvious that Lorne can't reach it. "He keeps you safe."
Lorne takes the toy and strokes its back, looking down. Cam touches the side of his neck, where he's not too badly hurt, and says, "You're okay," very quietly.
Lorne nods. "Thank you," he says to Alex. "I'll take good care of him for you. I guess you can probably help me with that."
Alex nods, and reaches out to stroke Whale's head. "Not for going back to Atlantis," he says sternly.
"Okay," Lorne says. "You can remind me."
"We'll worry about that nearer the time," John says firmly. "Come on, let's go show, um, Evan where he's sleeping."
Alex waits until Lorne's sitting on the couch, then climbs up and sits cross-legged next to him. John stays in the kitchen, where he can see them but doesn't think they can see him, even after Cam shakes his head and goes into the backyard.
"This is a nice house," Lorne says, twisting just enough to look at Alex. "Do you like your room?"
"It's upstairs," Alex says. "You're sleeping in the office."
"I figured, with the desk," Lorne agrees. "Means I'm close to the kitchen though, for midnight snacks."
Alex's face scrunches up in lack of understanding, but he says, "My room is blue. Do you have a dog?"
"You know I don't," Lorne says. "You've been in my room, remember?"
"My friend Talia has a kitten," Alex adds.
Lorne nods slightly. "So does my sister. It's called Comfrey."
"S'pretty," Alex says.
"What do your dads say about getting a pet?" Lorne asks. John groans, very quietly.
"Daddy says... someone has a rabbit."
Lorne gamely skates over that bit of vagueness. "Rabbits make good pets. Very friendly."
"Like Whale," Alex says, reaching out to stroke the toy's head.
"Sure," Lorne says, one hand curved around the toy. Alex pats his hand, then leans against Lorne's side. Lorne hesitates, but puts his arm round Alex and hugs him. He looks drawn and tired, and John's oddly glad to have him close, where they can keep an eye on him; a weird possessiveness that he got used to with his team, but never with Lorne, and has no idea what to make of.
Having Lorne staying with them is not unlike when John and Alex first moved in with Cam – the SGC has its fair share of ex-Lanteans, who want to come by and check on Lorne, and he's the kind of guy who keeps in touch with all his old friends, even from another galaxy.
Cadman, John suspects, is running some kind on interference at the Mountain, because someone's keeping the visitors to a manageable level. Her gate team's currently on stand-down while their scientist recuperates from a broken leg, and John quickly gets used to coming home from school to find Cadman doing paperwork at his kitchen table, with Lorne half-asleep on the couch.
"He sleeps a lot," she says quietly to John one afternoon, giving Lorne a worried look over her shoulder.
"He's on fairly heavy-duty pain killers," John points out.
"I know," she says, still looking worried. "Do you think he's sleeping at night?"
John shakes his head – Lorne has a prescription for sleeping pills, which he mostly isn't taking, and he looks too exhausted in the mornings to be sleeping without them. He's pretty sure Cadman's never been captured off-world, or at least not seriously hurt in the process, and he just doesn't know her well enough to try to explain what it's like, after, even knowing that she'll get it easily enough. "It'll get better," he says instead. "Give it some time."
"Yeah," she says on a sigh, and John says, "You're a good friend."
She laughs, but she looks pleased as well. "Hard not to be when you've seen each other naked," she says, and looks at John like she's waiting for him to ask.
"And that's exactly why I never used to ask for detailed mission reports," John tells her firmly.
Lorne's FBI agent, whose name John can never remember, calls every night, and Lorne always takes the call in his room with the door closed. John's usually putting Alex to bed when he calls, but he's late one night, and John's already back downstairs, marking math quizzes on the couch.
From the corner of his eye, he can see Cam watching Lorne walk carefully out of the room, cell in one hand, before Cam reaches over to kiss John's ear. "What?" John asks.
Cam shrugs. "Just thinking – all the times I wanted to call you when you were injured and check you were okay."
Mostly, he already was by the time Cam found out something had happened – years of secrecy meant no-one knowing about the other one, and no-one to think that they should pass on the message. John doesn't miss it at all. "You think that's better?" he asks, honestly curious.
"You don't?" Cam asks, surprised.
John shakes his head slowly. "I think it would have killed me to hear you sounding like Lorne does, and know it's possible to get to you but not be able to."
Cam goes quiet, obviously thinking about it. "Maybe," he says finally. "Would have been nice to be able to find out."
John's fairly certain he can live without that knowledge. The crash over Antarctica happened while he and Cam were mostly just casual friends who sometimes slept together, and John didn't hear about it until the end of his first year in Atlantis, but just thinking about it makes his throat tight with fear, even with Cam sitting right there. The thought of phone calls to the hospital, all the time Cam was really bad, all the time he was getting better by slow, painful, literal steps – John doesn't think he could have done it. Especially down in Antarctica, where he didn't know anyone, didn't have anyone he could have trusted enough to tell.
He wonders if Cadman's in touch with Lorne's partner, and suspects the answer is yes. He always found it kind of strange on Atlantis that Lorne wasn't anything like as close with his own team as John was with his. It's easier to understand like this, with Cadman being the constantly cheerful best friend, Lorne's partner on the phone every night, checking on him, Jennifer wanting him to stand up with her at her wedding. Even if Lorne's team hadn't included two marines, he probably didn't have space for any more close friendships.
"You look like you're thinking deep thoughts," Cam prods.
John shakes those off. "No, just wondering how Jenna managed to come up with this answer using that equation."
The next day, Alex fusses, refuses to go to bed unless Cam takes him, and Lorne doesn't close the door all the way, so John's in the living room and able to hear him, since he doesn't want to go over and shut the door, and turning on the television is a surefire way to get Alex downstairs again.
It doesn't matter at first; Lorne's talking too quietly to make out any words. Even so, John can hear him getting more wound up, and he has to force himself not to listen in.
Finally, Lorne says, loud enough for John to hear: "I'm not fine, does that make you feel better? Everything hurts, I can't sleep because every time I close my eyes I think I'm going to wake up back there, and when I do sleep, I dream about something terrible happening to the base while I'm not there and – and I miss you. All right? I just – I really wish you were here." His voice is shaky, like Alex when he wants a hug.
There's a pause, then Lorne says, "No, I know, me too. It's not that bad." He's obviously lying, which his partner apparently calls him on. "Okay, it is, but... "
There's a long silence that John really tries not to listen to, because it's too long for just the response to whatever Lorne didn't say, and when Lorne speaks again, it's too quiet for John to make out the words.
John stands up as soon as he hears the floorboard outside Alex's room creak, and catches Cam at the bottom of the stairs, tugging him towards the kitchen. "What?" Cam says, startled, but goes with it when John shakes his head and tugs him out into the backyard,
They haven't done anything with it yet, so in the half-dark, there's nothing to look at but grass and overgrown plants. Somewhere on the block, a dog barks.
"What are we doing?" Cam asks curiously, leaning back against the wall of the house.
John shrugs, awkward. "Illusion of privacy," he suggests. It's a concept they're both familiar with, and it shouldn't make Cam's face do the complicated, hurt thing that it does. He looks back into the house.
John feels itchy with tension. He takes a couple of steps onto the grass, opens and closes his hands, but it doesn't help, and he can feel the words building up inside him.
"He'll be okay," Cam says from behind John, still against the wall, keeping his distance.
John nods, meaningless, and turns around. Cam's right there, alive and standing up, and John knows he shouldn't ask, but he has to, even if he doesn't really know what he's asking for. "After the crash," he says. Cam twitches, pushes away from the wall to shove his hands into his pockets, every line of him gone tense. They don't talk about it – they've never talked about it. "You didn't go back to Kansas."
Cam shakes his head slowly, looking down. John thinks for a moment that he's going to have to ask an actual question to get an answer, but Cam says, "It was – my father being there wasn't good. For either of us."
Cam's relationship with his parents is the kind of relationship John wants Alex to have with the two of them when he's grown-up, but Sam's talked enough about Cam's recovery for John to know that it was two parts stubbornness and determination for every three parts of really good physical therapy. And John's seen plenty of people come back from injuries they shouldn't have, too determined not to, but he can imagine Cam, fighting to walk again and terrified of ending up like his father. He can imagine how Cam's father must have felt, watching his son and knowing that.
"My mom came down every couple of weeks," Cam says, like he's reading John's mind. "And Sam, when she wasn't out saving the world."
That's a lot of empty time. A hell of a lot of time to lie awake and be scared and in pain. John doesn't know what to say, when he wants to ask were you lonely? Would you have wanted me there? as though he could have gone – as though he would have been any use at all, when he liked Antarctica because no-one wanted to know him, and he could feel like he wasn't there at all.
He goes over to Cam instead, hugs him. Cam sighs, leans into it, and John says, "I'm glad you made it."
John falls asleep easily and deeply, worn out by all the tension running through the house, and so when he's woken by a loud thump, it takes him a minute to figure out where he is. He thinks for a second that the noise was Alex, falling out of bed maybe, but it comes again, from downstairs.
Cam doesn't stir when John gets out of bed and John doesn't have the heart to wake him, even though he sort of wants to. He's not above admitting that Lorne's sleep walking freaks him the fuck out, even when he knows there aren't any guns in the house for Lorne to be pointing at him.
He's halfway down the stairs before he sees Lorne, standing at the front door in the glow of a lamp. Lorne's dressed for bed still, not wearing any shoes, but he's got his hand on the lock.
"Colonel Lorne," John says, putting as much command into it as he can, and thanking whatever it was that stopped him from saying Major out of habit. Lorne stops, but doesn't turn. "Where are you going?"
Lorne turns then. His eyes are wide and spooked, his face pale. "We need to leave," he says.
John descends the last few stairs, not quite close enough to reach out. "You're right," he says. "But you were going the wrong way."
Lorne half-turns back to the door. "No, it's this way."
John swallows the urge to say something about hostiles in that direction; it'd probably work, but he's got a decent idea of where Lorne is in his head, and that won't help. "This way is quicker," he says calmly, taking a couple of steps closer. "Come on, let me show you."
Lorne shakes his head. "No. We shouldn't be here. We have to leave."
"We are leaving," John says. "I promise. You can trust me."
"I can't," Lorne says, his voice sharp with panic. "You're probably not even real, you're probably – you're not here, you're not -"
John's read up on sleepwalking, after last time, knows all the guidance about taking someone back to bed, but he can't let this go on, he just can't. He steps in close, catches Lorne's arm and holds on when he tries to pull away. "Wake up now," he says, as firmly as he can. "You're safe, everything's okay, but you need to wake up."
Lorne pulls harder, his eyes clouding with fear. "Let me go," he says, his voice rising along with it. "Let me -"
John grabs his other arm as well, holding on, trying to catch Lorne's eye, even though he knows it's pointless. "I'm not going to hurt you," he says. "You're safe. Wake up."
"Please," Lorne says, his voice breaking. "Please, don't, please -" and then he blinks and goes completely still. John lets his hold ease, just a fraction, and Lorne jerks away, pushing himself backwards until he hits the wall and stays there. His eyes are clearer when he looks at John, but he's still pale, lines of pain etched in his face. "Where am I?" he asks, his voice fogged with confusion.
John doesn't dare get too close, not when Lorne looks like one wrong move will be enough to break him. "You're on Earth," he says. "In my house."
Lorne looks around, too fast to really be taking anything in. then rubs both hands over his face and leaves them there. "I was," he starts, muffled, "I thought I was -" He drops his hands, but doesn't look at John. "Do you think you can have flashbacks to something that wasn't real?"
John thinks about the Selari, all the times he jerked awake with his heart pounding, watching the machete slice through the air, and then through him. "Yeah," he says.
Lorne looks up, surprise on his face that blanks out as he looks over John's shoulder. John turns, expecting Cam, and finds Alex clinging to the banister, a few steps down from the upper landing. "Daddy?" he says quietly.
"Everything's fine," John says. "Go find Dad, okay?"
Alex looks past him to Lorne, then back to John. "Evan's sick?"
"Sort of," John hedges. "He's feeling better now though."
"Where's Whale?" Alex asks.
Lorne takes a shaky breath. "I think I left him in my room," he says. "He was asleep."
"Whale doesn't sleep," Alex tells him, frowning.
"My mistake," Lorne says. "I'll get him in a minute."
John walks up a couple of stairs until he's on eye level with Alex. "Go and find Dad," he says again.
"No need," Cam says, sleepy drawl that never fails to make John smile. He crouches down behind Alex and pulls him close and up. "You sleeping with us tonight?" Alex nods, tucking his face against Cam's neck, and Cam looks at John over his head. "Everything okay?"
"Sort of," John says. "Talk in the morning."
When he turns back, Lorne's straightened up and pulled in on himself, the way he was after he locked up Teyla when they all had Kirsan fever. "I'm sorry I woke you," he says, not meeting John's eye. "It won't happen again."
"Sir?" John raises one eyebrow, even though Lorne can't see it.
"You sounded like you wanted to put sir on the end of that." John feels awkward as hell doing this when they're both dressed for bed, but he once fought off armed invaders dressed in his pajamas and combat boots; this probably won't be worse. "We're friends, here. This is going to work better if you try to remember that."
Lorne makes a sound that could charitably be called a laugh. "I'm still sorry. I didn't…"
John can take a pretty good guess at how that sentence should end, given how Lorne's been keeping all of his suffering away from them. "I'm going to make some tea. You want a cup?"
John's not sure he actually has any left from the last Pegasus care package, but he says, "Sure," anyway.
Lorne goes into his room for a hoodie while John boils the kettle and finds a couple of paper twists of tea leaves left. They sit at the kitchen table together, Lorne breathing in the steam from his mug, and it all feels weirdly domestic.
"How's Teyla these days?" John asks, more for something to get a conversation going than because he actually needs to know.
Lorne tells him a little about the triad relationship she, Kanaan and Ronon were just starting when John left, which Ronon, who's never discussed it with John, tells very differently from Teyla, who has. He offers his thoughts on Majors Teldy and Hatsford, his seconds-in-command since John left, asks about Cam and Alex, admits that he let Jennifer talk him into being one of her attendants for the wedding.
It's probably more than John's ever heard Lorne say in one go, even with John prompting. It's weird, at least in part because it works; when John suggests Lorne try to get more sleep, he goes with only the slightest hint of awkwardness.
Cam, to John's complete lack of surprise, is lying awake when John goes back to bed, Alex curled into him like a warm, sleeping puppy. John runs his hand over Alex's hair, needing the touch, and gives Cam the best smile he can manage.
"Okay?" Cam asks. Even in the dim light, John can see his frown.
"Not really. I wish Cadman had been able to put him up, I think he'd have an easier time with her."
Cam makes a non-committal noise. "I think you're doing a good job," he says. "It's never easy, right?"
It's not, and they both know it far too well. John knows it's stupid, knows that Lorne probably had plenty of nightmare material before any of this happened, but he still wishes that he could have kept Lorne safe from this.
"Am I a bad father for hoping Alex never wants to join the military?"
"I don't think anyone who knew what happened to some of the SG teams would hope for that for their kid," Cam says, tone completely neutral. John wonders what would have happened if he'd been in Cam's place, been shot down and spent months recovering, whether things would have changed with his family, or if he'd have been doing it all alone. More than he never wants Alex to be hurt, he never wants his own son to feel abandoned the way John did, after his mom died. He knows that, in the end, that will matter far more than whatever career path Alex chooses to follow.
Cam touches the side of his face, drawing his attention. "I love you," Cam says, holding John's gaze.
It's not like they never say the words, in passing and in seriousness, but the way Cam says it, imbuing so much more meaning into the words than John will ever be able to, makes John want to look away. He doesn't, because if Cam is brave enough to say it, John's brave enough to accept it. "I know," he says. "Thank you."
"Welcome," Cam says, only a little mocking.
John shakes his head, laughing softly at them both. It helps, all of it, like a layer of warmth over how much he's worrying about Lorne.
The Saturday after Lorne's sleepwalking incident, John opens the door to find Cadman standing there, shadowed by a sandy-haired man John doesn't know, even if he is clearly military of some branch. SGC, maybe – Cadman collects strays like Rodney collects PhDs, and the man looks exhausted.
"Is Evan here?" Cadman asks.
"And good morning to you too, Captain," Cam offers from over John's shoulder.
Cadman grimaces. "Right, sorry. Greetings and salutations, is Evan here, please?"
She's twitchy in a way that makes John anxious. "He's out back with Alex. Everything all right?"
"Yeah." She steps aside so John can a good look at the man with her, and he revises his estimation from military to ex-military, so it's not wholly a surprise when she says, "This is Colby Granger?" John nods that yes, he does know who that is. "John Sheppard, Cam Mitchell," Cadman adds, gesturing vaguely at each of them. "Alex is their kid, he's adorable."
"Good to meet you." Colby sounds sincere, but he looks nervous, the way John felt the first time Cam took him to meet the Mitchell family. The thought of taking that role for Lorne, who has a mom of his own whom Colby has surely met, makes John want to laugh.
"You too." Cam nudges John out of the way. "Excuse Cadman's lack of manners, come on in. Long flight?"
"Yeah, um…" It's obvious that they don't really have Colby's attention, and equally obvious who he really wants to be speaking to as he follows them through the house. "I slept through it."
"Right," Cadman says, soft and mocking.
Lorne's sitting on a lawn chair, nodding seriously as Alex, sitting at his feet with his helicopter, explains something very intensely. They both look up when Colby steps out of the door; Alex's eyes immediately seek out John and Cam, checking on their existence in the face of a stranger. Lorne's face goes blank, and he says, "What the – what are you doing here?"
"Wow, hey, don't overwhelm the guy with the force of your affection or anything." Cadman grabs Colby's elbow and pulls him over to Lorne, and John gets the distinct impression that he and Cam are superfluous in their own house. He stays anyway, and not just because of Alex. "I don't know what they teach you in the Air Force, but here in civilized society, we generally go with 'hello'."
Neither Lorne nor Colby looks at her. "Hello," Lorne says, his voice flat. "What are you doing here, you're supposed to be back in LA."
"I thought I'd take in the sights, maybe a show?" Colby's voice, by contrast, is impatient and irritated, and Alex, still sitting at Lorne's feet, has gone very still.
"You two suck at reunions," Cadman tells them, crouching down. "Come on, Alex. We don't want to stay with them if they're going to be grumpy, do we?" Alex shakes his head uncertainly, but lets her pick him up. "You think we could talk your dads into taking us to the park instead?"
"Maybe," Alex says quietly. He presses his face into her shoulder the way he does when he's freaked out. It makes John want to be pissed at Lorne and Colby for being this way, but it's not like he doesn't get why they are.
He's still not happy that they're showing it in front of his son though.
Cadman glares at both of them over Alex's head and makes her way back up the garden to John and Cam. "You guys want to go to the park?"
Cam hesitates, watching Colby and Lorne. "Maybe we should…"
"We should leave them alone so they can get the screaming and the crying and the passionate declarations of undying love out of the way without an audience," Cadman says firmly. Which, even knowing she's mostly kidding, is more than enough to get John the hell out of there.
Alex refuses to be pushed by anyone except Cam on the swings, so Cadman and John watch them from a bench in a patch of sunlight. Cadman's still tense, but John feels oddly relaxed, waiting her out. He can't remember when he stopped wanting to run away if someone looked like they were going to talk about their feelings, but he's blaming Cam and Alex.
"Colby called me to ask if he could fly out," Cadman says finally, her elbows on her knees so John can't see her face. "His boss gave him a week of leave to spend with Evan, soon as he heard what happened."
"That's good of him."
"He's a good guy." Cadman shrugs, like it's no big deal that she knows this about someone distant from her, and John wonders whether there's more to her and Colby's relationship than just the bond through Lorne – whether they're friends in their own right, or if she's just looking out for Colby while Lorne's not around. "I guess they'll go back to LA, maybe. Till the wedding, anyway."
It's on the tip of John's tongue to ask 'what wedding?' when he remembers: there's less than a month to go before Rodney and Jennifer's wedding.
"Some days, I just want to tell him, you know?" Cadman says, twisting enough to look at John. "Because – I don't know, I worry about them." She makes a face, scrunching up her nose. "Well, okay, I worry Evan's gonna do something dumb because he thinks it's better for Colby, but, you know, I worry."
John's always thought of Lorne as the sensible one, not given to any kind of crazy or stupid, but he's willing to admit that Cadman knows the guy a lot better. "I can't imagine either of you letting him do that."
Cadman grins, bright and far happier than she's been for a while. "No, sir."
Back at the house, Lorne and Colby have obviously made it up, if the way Colby's hovering and Lorne's letting him is anything to go by. They turn down Cam's offer to stay for lunch.
"Colby's got us a place to stay for a couple of days." Lorne's expression suggests that he's trying to imply that there will be screaming hot sex happening in that place, but he doesn't quite manage to pull it off. He looks more scared than anticipatory; like maybe the screaming will be a whole different kind, the kind he didn't let himself do while John and Cam were around.
Cadman hugs him and doesn't let go. "I'm going to call you every night."
"Cadman…" Lorne protests, but he's holding onto her just as much as she is to him.
"Every night," she repeats.
"I'll make sure he picks up," Colby promises.
"I'm not a child."
Cadman opens her mouth to answer that one, but Alex pushes his way past all the people, arms up towards Lorne. "Hug too."
Lorne picks him up carefully to oblige, then digs into his jacket pocket. "Thank you for lending him to me," he says, holding out Whale.
Alex frowns. "Are you going home?"
"Not yet. I think I'll see you again before I leave."
Alex pushes Whale back towards Lorne. "You keep."
"Are you sure?"
Alex bites his lip uncertainly, but nods. "To look after you."
"Thank you." Lorne gives him another hug. "I'll take very good care of him."
John feels Cam's hand on his back, both of them watching their son, and wonders why he ever thought that leaving Atlantis would mean leaving that family behind. He should have known they'd just follow him back to Earth, and absorb his new family right along with them.
At dinner that night, Alex pushes his food around his plate without any of his usual chatter about his day. Even allowing for how the three of them have spent all day together, that's unusual, testified by the silent conversation of facial expressions that Cam and John have over Alex's head.
"I thought you liked mashed potatoes," Cam says finally.
Alex looks up enough to nod, then puts a determined forkful awkwardly into his mouth.
"You don't have to finish them if you're not hungry," John says. They agreed that early on – not that they'd encourage Alex not to eat or to get picky, but that they wouldn't do the whole 'eat your greens before you get dessert' thing that both of their own families did with them, and the Air Force as well, in its way.
"M'hungry," Alex says quietly.
Clearly it's time for the direct approach. "Do you want to tell us what's wrong?"
"Miss Uncle Evan."
John winces. Lorne was their first ever house guest, and though Alex coped reasonably well saying goodbye to Cam's family, this is the first time he's had someone in their own space and had to say goodbye. They probably should have predicted that it wouldn't be completely smooth – Alex has had to say goodbye to a hell of a lot of people in the last couple of years.
Cam hauls Alex into his lap, Alex clinging to his little fork. "You'll see him again in a few weeks." Alex nods, dropping his head against Cam's chest, the picture of small child sadness. "Why don't we send him an email after dinner?"
"Or phone?" Alex perks up at his own suggestion, so much so that John almost wants to say yes.
"I think Evan's going to go to bed early," he says instead, ignoring the way Cam snorts with black-humored amusement. "If we phone, we might wake him up. But we could ask him to call us when he gets our email. Okay?"
Alex thinks about it for a long moment, then nods. "I help type?"
"We'll see," Cam says. "You want to finish your potatoes now?"
Alex scrambles back into his own seat, nodding eagerly, one more potential drama averted.
Lying in bed next to Cam that night, John says, "You think he'll be okay?"
"Yeah," Cam says, not even needing to ask who John's talking about. "He's got plenty of people who care about him."
John hesitates, then rolls over so he can rest his head on Cam's chest, listen to Cam's heart beating, steady and strong under his ear. "And Colby," he adds, knowing Cam will hear what he means behind those words.
"Guess they're both lucky." Cam's arm comes up round John's shoulders, holding him close, and John relaxes into it.
"We got Alex as well," Cam says. "I think that means we had more luck."
John's glad for the darkness, the way it hides the stupid smile he can feel on his face. "Me, too."
He's not so sure about it a week later, when the alarm goes off at what feels like the crack of dawn and Cam shakes him the rest of the way to awake, says, "Come on, the mall waits for no man."
"It's Saturday," John groans. Friday had been a nightmare of scheduled tests, panicking students, his own observed class, and then Alex throwing one of his rare temper tantrums when bedtime rolled around. All John wants to do is go back to sleep and wake up when the day's half over.
"You used to get up at all hours of the day and night to go fight space vampires," Cam points out, heartlessly dragging the covers off.
John grabs for them and misses, but he's not willing to open his eyes yet. "Couldn't sleep through the noise."
"Also, we wouldn't be doing this if your best friend wasn't getting married, and you weren't the best man."
John reluctantly opens his eyes to find Cam, naked but for his boxers, glaring down at him from the side of the bed. It's not much of an incentive to get up, if he's honest. "So you're saying this is my fault." He reaches out, hooks a finger in the waist of Cam's shorts, and tugs him closer, Cam's frown flickering towards a smile.
"Then I should make it up to you."
"By getting out of bed?"
"By getting you back into it," John corrects, tugging harder until Cam sprawls over him.
They don't get up early.
Which John starts to regret about ten minutes after they park the car and wind their way into the mall, Alex clutching both of their hands. There are a hell of a lot of people, but John can still hear the canned music pumping through the speakers. He kind of wants to clutch Cam's hand as well.
"You're going to wear your gray suit, right? Or does McKay have something picked out already?"
John shrugs. "Gray suit, I guess. He said blue tie. No spots or stripes."
"Glad he's got a clear vision," Cam says dryly, stepping aside for three teenage boys who probably didn't even see them. Alex presses close to John's leg, leaning against him when John reaches down to smooth back his hair. "I need a new dress shirt, anyway."
"You don't own a decent dress shirt?"
Cam looks away and back, his expression twisting ruefully. "Vala and dress shirts don't mix."
John's not even touching that one. "Okay, fine, shirt for you, tie for me, and I guess a shirt for Alex."
"And a suit," Cam adds, like it's obvious.
John's shaking his head before he realizes Cam's not kidding. "We're not putting our son in a suit."
"It's a wedding, John. It'll be expected."
"He's three. No-one's going to care what he's wearing."
"He can't – if he was a girl, we'd be buying him a pretty dress." Cam makes a face like he's just heard the pronouns in that sentence. "You know what I mean."
"A shirt, new pants." John looks down at Alex, who's occupied with the slight rip in the knee of John's jeans, which John suspects will be a lot less slight when they finally get moving. He remembers being five years old, his mom tying his tie while he fidgeted, wanting to play, not wanting to sit still and be quiet for - he can't even remember where they were going. He just remembers how his mom didn't look like his mom in her smart dress and shawl, her hair pinned up neatly.
For a moment, he'd swear he can smell the incense that clung to her hair and her clothes after she left his dad, started living her own life again.
"He's just a kid," he says. "He should be able to run around if he wants to, not have to be all proper and quiet."
"John." Cam's tone is impatient, edging towards annoyed. John knows it's as much because they're stuck in a busy mall on a Saturday morning as it is that John's annoying him by arguing, but that doesn't change how much John hates it. He rests his hand on Alex's shoulder. "Court and I wore suits to church since we were old enough not to grow out of them in a couple of months, it's not a big deal."
"I don't want him to. Rodney and Jennifer won't care. Please."
John knows that if he said what he's thinking, about his family and his own childhood, that Cam would let it go, but he's sick of Cam having to. He's sick of the way his father is still having such a stupid impact in his life. Trouble is, he hasn't got anything else. He looks at Cam, half-hoping some of the churning need for understanding will show on his face, half-hoping he's hiding it.
For a long moment, Cam just looks at him. Then he shakes his head. "Fine. He's your friend, I guess you get the final say." He takes Alex's hand, leaving John the one that was picking at his jeans. "Come on, kiddo, let's get this show on the road."
It's a good impression of Cam letting things go, but John knows him too well to be fooled. He just doesn't know how to fix it.
They shop, and stop for lunch, then shop some more and stop again for ice cream, and by the time they get home, it's like the whole thing never happened. John knows Cam really has let it go, or at least let himself forget about it. The problem is, John can't forget about it. Can't shake the memory of Cam saying, I guess you get the final say, like maybe he wasn't just talking about Rodney being John's friend.
Alex, exhausted from the people and the long day, crashes out in John's lap almost as soon as they finish dinner, and John doesn't have the heart to wake him. It means, though, that he's stuck on the couch, and now they live in a house, not Cam's apartment, so there's plenty of space for Cam to be elsewhere.
John closes his eyes, one hand on Alex's back, feeling him breathe. He remembers being in Alex's position with his own father, just about; he remembers being fascinated with his father's ties, curling the ends around his hands and watching the pattern shift. He and Dave, or at least their mom on their behalf, bought Dad a tie every Christmas until John changed schools to be nearer their mom and he and Dave more or less stopped talking to each other. He hasn't thought about that in years, not even when he and Alex were picking out Cam's birthday present.
None of it matters, not really. And John will never admit it, but he misses Cam in a way that shouldn't be possible when Cam's in the same house.
He gets carefully to his feet, hushing Alex when he stirs. Alex only wakes properly when John's tucking him into bed, reaching for John's hand with a sleepy, "Daddy?"
John sits on the edge of the bed and runs a hand over Alex's hair, smoothing it back. "I'm here. Go to sleep."
"He's a bit busy. He'll come in and kiss you goodnight soon, all right?"
Alex nods, his eyelids already slipping closed. "Gon' stay 'wake."
"Okay buddy." John strokes his hair again. "You do that."
He sits there for a long time after Alex has fallen asleep again, listening to him breathe, his mind wandering, and when he stands up, Cam's watching him from the bedroom doorway. "I promised Alex you'd kiss him goodnight," he says quietly, instead of asking how long Cam's been standing there.
Cam immediately steps into the room to make good on John's promise, resting one hand on John's shoulder for balance as he leans down. John catches that hand on automatic pilot. It's easy, then, to say, "I'm sorry about before. I was – I don't know. I'm sorry."
Cam's expression tightens slightly. "I know." He looks down at Alex, then jerks his head to the door. In the corridor, he says, "Whatever's bugging you about this, you could have told me. Or told me it's none of my business."
"It is your business," John says, the words catching in his throat. He wants to explain, he does, but the words are useless, their childhoods too different for Cam to ever really understand how badly John wants to protect Alex from growing up the same way. "I don't know how to tell you," he says, which is about as close to the truth as he can get.
Cam sighs. He looks more than tired – fed up, with John, with John's stupid issues-with-a-capital-i. John wants to reach out and hold on, disproportionately afraid that Cam's going to run. Like Cam hasn't had a million bigger things to run over since they first hooked up, so many years ago.
"I'm sorry," John says again, all he's got. "Thank you for – letting me have my way, I guess."
Cam shrugs. "Yeah, well," he says, and it hits John again, the things that might be lying under what he's saying.
This, at least, is easy. Easier. He cups Cam's cheek in his palm, turning him to face John. "You don't have to let me win just because it's about Alex. He's our son. If anything ever happened to me, he'd be yours. That's why I brought him back here."
Cam closes his eyes, pressing his cheek into John's hand, and that's how John knows he got it right, that he's said the right thing. "I love you," Cam says.
John wraps his arms around Cam, lets Cam lean on him for once. "You, too," he says, but it's not enough. "I love you too."
In among the mass of emails being exchanged between two galaxies (John doesn't want to think about what they might have done to make near constant email access in the Pegasus galaxy a reality) was a message to say that the Atlantis contingent of guests would be arriving on Earth on the morning of the ceremony, and going straight to the hotel. It makes sense, given that, although they're travelling a hell of a long way, it's not actually taking very long, but John can't quite wrap his head around the fact that he'll be seeing most of them for the first time in a year from the front of a hotel reception room.
Rodney and Jennifer are the obvious exceptions, but they get transported up to Canada, where Jeannie's apparently been doing most of the prep work, almost as soon as they're through the gate.
All of which means that John, despite having fielded a number of panicking phone calls from Rodney, and one from Jennifer threatening murder of her fiancé if John didn't force him to calm down, feels more than a little unprepared for his best manly duties when the morning of the wedding rolls around.
It's getting to be a habit, and one he's not especially keen on falling into: the last time he was best man was for his brother's wedding, which he nearly missed because his deployment got unexpectedly extended. It was only thanks to Andrea's organizational abilities that he didn't end up standing with his brother in his dusty field uniform.
Not that he has much time to think about it. Alex, for all that he doesn't really understand what's going to happen, wakes up high on excitement and anticipation, and just gets worse.
"I'm getting too old for this," he tells Cam. He's got Alex in his arms, wriggling to get down, muddy from John chasing him down through the garden, and Cam grins ruefully at the two of them from where he's sitting at the kitchen table, shining their shoes.
"How do you think I feel?"
"Be a plane, Daddy." Alex throws his arms in the air, narrowly missing smacking John in the face, and makes airplane noises.
"In a minute. Why don't you be a submarine first and get in the bath?"
Alex shakes his head. "Plane. Vroom."
John looks at Cam, who's obviously trying not to laugh. "Pretty sure that's a car, Alex."
Cam opens his mouth, then closes it again. "If you say so. But Daddy's right, you need to go in the bath, you look like you've been rolling around in the mud."
"That's because he has."
"Mud!" Alex grins, purely happy, and it makes up for how much of a pain it's going to be to get him dressed and able to sit quietly through the ceremony. "Mud monster."
"Mud monster tomorrow." John leaves Cam to their shoes and starts up the stairs. "Alex, keep still until we're up the stairs. Right now, you're going to be a bubble monster, and then you're going to get dressed and play with your toys while Dad and I get dressed."
"In the mud," Alex declares.
John sets him down on the bathroom floor and starts the water running. "Not in the mud. In our bedroom, where we can keep an eye on you."
"No mud," John says firmly, and really hopes that there isn't access to the garden at the hotel.
Bath-time ends up with Alex clean and John damp, but he figures he's one-for-two so it could be worse, and Alex is about as cooperative as he ever is while John helps him get dressed. "I do," he says when John starts on the tiny buttons of his shirt.
"You think you can?"
"I do," Alex says again, determined. He tips his head down so he can see the buttons, his face screwed up in concentration as he twists his fingers around the buttons and the button holes. John wishes he had his camera – he can imagine dragging this picture out to show Alex's prom date in fifteen years, and her or him being utterly charmed by how cute Alex was. Is. John doesn't really want to think about Alex growing up, or the conversation they'll have to have eventually, about where he came from and what happened to his mom.
He really hopes they'll have come up with a good way to explain it by them.
"Done, Daddy!" Alex exclaims, dragging John back to the present. He's missed one of the buttons near the bottom, so the tails of the shirt don't hang straight, but John can't bring himself to make the correction.
"Perfect," he says, kissing Alex's forehead. "Well done."
John starts to tell him no, leave them alone, then figures what the hell, if it's going to keep him occupied. Alex is still young enough that him deciding to unbutton his shirt during the ceremony will be cute instead of weird, if they can't stop him. "Don't pull any off."
Alex shakes his head, his frown of concentration deepening, and John gives into temptation and goes to find the camera.
The doorbell rings while John's still upstairs, trying to get his hair into some sort of order, and by the time he gets down, Cadman's got Alex in her lap and is watching him demonstrate how to work buttons, Vala and Cam watching with matching amused expressions.
"Your son is very smart," Vala says when she catches sight of John. "I don't know how, since he can't have inherited it from either of you."
"Unlike his looks," Cadman teases, stilling Alex's hands when he finishes fastening the last button and looks set to start opening them again. "You sure know how to wear a suit, sir."
John considers a comment in return – both she and Vala are wearing dresses, an occasion that, for Cadman at least, John thought would never arise – but he can't quite get past the rank difference that existed.
"You ready to go?" Cam asks, rescuing John. "Sam called while you were in the shower, says they dialed in early, so most people are already at the hotel."
John makes a mental note to delete the no doubt numerous messages on his cell demanding to know where he is. "Ready when you are."
The drive to the hotel is short enough that they can go home for the night, which John is fairly sure was a consideration somewhere in the planning, since the Atlantis guests aren't leaving the planet for a couple of days. Alex chatters happily to Cadman and Vala the whole way there, but falls silent as Cam pulls into the parking lot.
It's a nice hotel, built to look like an old country home despite being relatively new, but John doesn't really take that in. It doesn't exactly look like the main hall on Alex's birth planet, but there's something about it that makes him think of that anyway, and he suspects Alex is thinking the same thing.
"John," Cadman says quietly, already opening the buckles holding Alex in his seat as John climbs out of the passenger seat, reaching for Alex and pulling him close, tucking his head down so he can't see.
"It's okay," he says softly, rubbing Alex's back, feeling Alex tense against him. "You're safe, I've got you."
"Mommy," Alex whispers, almost too low to hear, and John feels something inside him freeze up.
"She's not here." He feels Cam move to stand close, distantly hears Cadman say something, an unfamiliar voice responding as they move away. "I'm sorry, she's not here."
"Gone." Alex sounds on the verge of tears.
"Yes, she's gone. Very bad people took her away, Alex, but you're safe with us." John meets Cam's eyes over Alex's head, sees his own helplessness reflected back at him. "I'm sorry."
"Get Daddy?" John feels Alex's tears against his neck, but that's all, no sobbing. He's not sure if that’s a good or bad thing.
"No," he says firmly. "They won't get me or Dad, and they won't get you either. We won't let anything happen to you, ever. I promise."
Alex relaxes slightly, wrapping his legs around John, one hand reaching for Cam, who takes it. "We got you," Cam says. "You're safe now."
John's never, in his entire life, been as grateful as he is to hear Teyla's voice in that moment, even if he is too distracted to hear the actual words. Apparently, he's not the only one to hear it; Alex lifts his tear-stained face and zeroes in on her immediately. "Teyla," he tells John.
"I see that." He turns slightly to watch her make her way across the parking lot, Torren holding her hand, Kanaan and Ronon following her. "Hey, guys."
"John," Teyla calls warmly. "And Cameron, it is lovely to see you again."
The next couple of minutes are a blur of greetings – Teyla bends her head to rest her forehead against John's, Ronon gives him a back-thumping hug as Torren throws himself at John's waist, and Kanaan shakes hands with everyone. When they separate again, Alex is in Teyla's arms, looking much happier. John wonders if he could steal her, just for a few days.
"Surely you have not been crying today." She turns so that Alex can't see the hotel without twisting all the way around, her eyes meeting John's, full of concern. Alex shakes his head uncertainly. "That is very good. We should all be happy on such a joyful occasion."
"Mama." Torren tugs at Teyla's skirt. "Can we go play?"
Ronon, to John's mild surprise, crouches down to Torren's level. "Not right now. You can't get dirty right now."
"You too?" Cam asks, getting a rueful nod from Kanaan. Who is, John notices, wearing a mix of brightly colored Athosian formal wear, and more solemn Satedan. Actually, all four of them are, which is a pretty clear statement for anyone in the know. He catches Ronon's eye, laughing a little at the smug grin Ronon gives him in return.
For a moment, none of it feels real. Like he could blink and wake up and this would all be another of his half-remembered dreams from the time he spent in the stasis pod, 48,000 years into the future. It's hard to believe that this is how their lives have shaken out, when he wasn't sure, sometimes, that they'd have any kind of lives or futures.
"Uncle John?" Torren's moved closer while John wasn't paying attention. "Who's he?"
"Torren," his three parents reprimand in one voice.
"Sorry," Torren says. "Um…"
"This is Cameron," John says, taking pity on him. "He's Alex's other dad."
Cam ducks slightly. "Hello, Torren. It's nice to meet you."
Torren eyes him uncertainly. "Like Ronon?"
John has no idea. "Kind of," he hedges, then, "Yes," because they're as much a family as him, Cam and Alex.
"Is he nice?" Torren asks.
"You are being very rude, Torren," Kanaan chides.
"Yeah," John says. He can feel a goofy grin spreading over his face, but he doesn't care. "He is, he's amazing." He's pretty sure he can feel Ronon rolling his eyes; he can see Teyla and Kanaan smiling indulgently, like John is their kid.
Torren tilts his head, considering for a moment, then waves at Cam. "Hi nice to meet you too can I sit with Alex inside please?"
"I think we all get told where to sit," Cam says, "But if not, and your parents don't mind, then sure."
"Now that we have established that," Teyla says dryly, "We should go in. I am sure that Rodney will be anxious to know you are here, John."
Cam takes John's hand, since Alex is showing no sign of wanting Teyla to put him down, even with Torren walking beside them, chattering away. "That could have gone worse," he says quietly.
There's still a hint of amused pleasure lingering on his face, making John smile. "Yeah, it definitely could've."
Rodney, when John knocks and lets himself in through the open hotel room door, is glaring at himself in the mirror, tie in his hands.
"Too late to strangle yourself now, McKay," John tells him. "Should've done it before all your guests got here."
"Believe me, I considered it. Also eloping while we were in Canada, running off to a Pegasus planet to do the deed, and getting Caldwell to do it last time he was in the city." Rodney turns, looking fractionally less murderous.
"Pretty sure no government counts captains of space ships." John crosses the room and rescues the tie before Rodney can twist it out of all recognition.
"More's the pity."
"Here." John lifts the collar of his shirt and ties the tie neatly, tugging the ends level and adjusting the knot. "All right?"
"Why didn't you warn me what this would be like?" Rodney asks, moving back to the mirror and tugging at his shirt sleeves.
John turns away to find Rodney's jacket, swallowing down the "because you didn't tell me you were getting married and you live in another galaxy," that he wants to say. "Like what?" he asks instead.
"So – nerve-wracking. I've given award acceptance speeches, I've faced down angry off-world leaders, this is nothing."
John smoothes his hands over the back of Rodney's jacket, buying himself a moment. He wasn't nervous when he and Nancy got married – well, a little, because she got sent on a last-minute mission and it seemed for a while like she wouldn't make it back to her own wedding. But they'd loved each other, and at the time, he'd been sure it would work. He was pretty certain they both had been; the doubts hadn't come until much later.
"Don't let Keller hear you say it's nothing," he says eventually, keeping his voice light.
"She knows what I mean," Rodney says dismissively. "Everyone I know is out there, waiting for me to screw up the words or something."
"The registrar'll tell you what to say, just repeat it and don't, you know…"
"Go off the point," John says, which is the most tactful way he has of saying, "don't rant."
"Right," Rodney says, but he still looks uncertain, and it's not like John hasn't been practicing how to actually say what he means for the past year.
"It doesn't matter if it's not perfect," he says. "You won't – you'll remember the good stuff, and the bad stuff will seem funny. Later. Because it's – you're –"
"In love?" Rodney asks, smirking at him, mocking him a little. "Married? What?"
"Whatever," John says, grinning back. He misses Rodney, suddenly – misses Teyla and Ronon and Atlantis, the life he thought he'd always have. He loves this life, can't imagine giving up Cam and Alex and their family, but a part of him is homesick, just for a second.
"Thanks." Rodney nods firmly, oblivious to John's wobbly moment, and holds out his hand expectantly, snapping his fingers when John doesn't respond quickly enough. "My jacket, please. I thought you were supposed to attend to my every need as my best man."
"Really just here to make an embarrassing speech." John holds out Rodney's jacket, helps him pull it on and settle it on his shoulders.
"You won't, will you?" Rodney asks, checking himself in the mirror again. If he starts messing with his hair, John's out of there, best manly duties or not.
"Make an embarrassing speech? No, Jeannie said there won't be speeches." Mainly, though this didn't seem a good time to mention it to Rodney, because both Rodney and the elder Dr. Keller could apparently go on at length. John hadn't asked the reason why he was banned from giving a speech; he probably didn't want to know. "We should go down, people will be waiting."
"You to get there so the ushers can start showing people to their seats."
"Right." Rodney looks away, then back to John. "I'm doing the right thing."
It sounds a little too much like a question for John not to respond, but the truthful answer is that you can never know; he and Nancy had thought they were, but they'd turned out to be wrong. "You wouldn't be here if you weren't," he says finally. "Come on, before Jennifer thinks you've changed your mind."
Most of the weddings John's been to, including his own, were held in churches, observing a tradition that most of the couple didn't follow. The room they're shown into hasn't really been done up to look like anything other than what it is, but the ribbons and flowers decorating the place still make it look nice. "Red and silver."
Rodney takes his seat next to John, twisting slightly to look at the closed door at the back of the room. "Like, um, home. Since that's where we met."
Rodney rolls his eyes. "Did I tell you what we found last week? I finally talked Woolsey into letting us take a team over to sector twelve…"
John gets lost halfway through Rodney's story, missing too much of the background to make proper sense of it, but it distracts Rodney, and all John needs to do is nod in the appropriate places. He's aware of the buzz of chatter increasing behind them. Even so, he's surprised when Kaleb taps him on the shoulder. "Everyone's here, and Jennifer's ready when you are."
"Already?" Rodney jerks back his sleeve to check his watch. "That was – fast."
Kaleb shrugs, looking amused – John wonders how much mileage he and Jeannie have gotten out of Rodney finally getting married – and expectant.
"He's ready," John says firmly. "Right, McKay?"
"Right." Rodney doesn't sound entirely convinced, but he's on his feet and that's what matters. John takes his place beside Rodney, scanning the crowd. He picks out Madison and Robbie sitting quietly next to a space that's obviously intended for Kaleb; Ronon, Teyla, Kanaan, and Torren sitting with Cam and Alex, who's settled in Cam's lap. Towards the back of the room, Cadman and Vala are sitting together a couple of rows behind Colby, who looks like he's not sure why he's there but also doesn't exactly want to leave. Even Carter, O'Neill and Teal'c have showed up, sitting together on the far right. John recognizes a good two thirds of the faces, mostly from Atlantis, a few, like Carolyn Lam, from the SGC. Home away from home he thinks; thinking of Lorne convalescing at their house, of Cadman, Vala and Harris dropping by, Teal'c and Carter babysitting, and he's not sure which home is which, any more.
"Stop daydreaming," Rodney hisses in his ear. "Honestly, I thought you were supposed to look after me, not the other way around."
John's saved from having to say anything further by the rear door opening, music starting up, and Jennifer stepping through on her father's arm. She's wearing a simple cream dress, flowers in her hair, and she looks happier than John's ever seen her. Porter and Jeannie follow her arm-in-arm, then Brown and Lorne, and it's easy to see why Jennifer's attendants are arm-in-arm, Lorne leaning, very slightly, into Brown. He looks better than he did when he left their house, even if he's obviously not quite back up to full speed yet.
Lorne catches John's eye as Jennifer's father passes her hand to Rodney. John raises his eyebrows a little in question, and Lorne nods back, just slightly.
"Ladies and gentlemen, we are gathered here today…"
John turns at the sound of Alex's voice, bends down just in time to catch Alex as he hurls himself into John's arms. He kicks as John swoops him up, one smart-shoed foot clipped John's hip in a way that makes him wince. "Ow, buddy. You've got sharp feet."
"Sorry, Daddy." Alex ducks to kiss the side of John's head. "Better now?"
"Sure." John brushes Alex's hair back with his free hand, scanning the crowd for Cam, who seems to have disappeared. "You okay?"
Alex nods, pressing his cheek against John's, a weird mix of clingy and cheerful that doesn't jibe all that well with his little freak-out at the sight of the building. "Where's Dad?"
"Mm…" Alex looks around. "Tall now."
"Yeah." John scans the faces, or in most cases the backs of heads, but doesn't see Cam anywhere. Which is ridiculous, because it's not as though Cam would let Alex run off on his own. "So can you see anyone?"
Alex wriggles like he's trying to make himself even taller. Before he can say anything, a half-familiar voice says, "John," from behind him, and he turns to find himself face-to-face with Jeannie Miller, accompanied by John's wayward partner, and Madison, who's grinning shyly.
Jeannie gives him half a hug, the other half taking in Alex as well. "Meredith told me you had a son now." John can imagine just how Rodney put it, but it's easy to let that go when he just stood up for Rodney at his wedding, saw how happy they both are. "Do I get to say hello?"
Alex looks at Jeannie uncertainly for a moment, then takes the hand that she holds out to him. "H'lo."
"Hi, there." Jeannie squeezes his hand, smiling. "My name's Jeannie, and this is my daughter Maddie."
Madison steps up to her mother's side, reaching out to touch the back of Alex's hand. "Hi. What's your name?"
"Alex." Jeannie lets go of his hand, and he turns it so that he and Madison are holding hands. John catches Cam's eye over their heads, sees the fond look there. Cam looks at home here, surrounded by people who've gathered to celebrate someone's happiness. John thinks, again, of how Cam is with his family, and makes a mental note to suggest they go visit again soon.
"My brother's over there," Madison says. "You want to come play with us? Aunt Teyla let Torren come too."
"I go?" Alex asks. For a moment, John wants to say no and hold onto him, but it's still rare for Alex to choose to be with other children instead of him and Cam, and with Alex starting kindergarten in the not distant enough for John's comfort future, they need to do more to change that.
"You can go," he says, checking with Cam, who nods. "Not outside, and stay with Madison or an adult you know."
"Okay." Alex wriggles down to the ground, taking Madison's hand when she offers it.
"I'll look after him, Uncle John," she promises, moving away through the people.
"She will," Jeannie assures them, probably catching the way John and Cam are tracking the two children through the room. "She's gotten very responsible since we had Robbie." She turns to smile at John. "So, how's parenthood suiting you? I have to admit, I was pretty surprised when Meredith told me."
"You're not the only one," Cam says. He steps closer to John, brushing the back of his hand against the back of John's. John wants to take Cam's hand, knows that's what Cam's offering, but somehow being obviously a couple in front of a crowd of people he's known and served with is different from doing it in front of only one or two people.
"It's good. Tiring, but –"
"The terrible twos are a lie," Jeannie says solemnly, her eyes shining. "I think Maddie grew out of them when she was about five."
John groans, even though the truth is that Alex is an incredibly well-behaved child. It's a little warped, but he sometimes thinks he wouldn't mind Alex throwing an occasional tantrum. Being a regular child.
"It's worth it though," Jeannie says. "Nothing like it in the world."
She gave up science to have her family, and nearly lost her brother in the process. If anyone can understand how John felt leaving Atlantis, it's probably her, and she's smart enough to know that he'll know that. "Thanks," he says.
"Of course," she says warmly, patting his arm. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I see the bride looking anxious about some photographs."
"Shouldn't you be getting photographed as well?" Cam asks as Jeannie slides away through the milling people – although dinner isn't for an hour or so, they're being moved into the room set aside for the meal instead of to the bar, which would be great if they could actually get in instead of having to wait.
"I'm done, apparently." John checks for Alex, sees Madison's blonde hair through a gap in the crowd. "You okay?"
"I'm good." Cam turns slightly so he and John are at an angle to each other, but touching along the length of their bodies. John leans into it a little, feeling less visible now that they're alone in the crowd. "Sam's here, and Teal'c and O'Neill."
John remembers seeing him at the back of the ceremony. "I didn't think he liked Rodney."
Cam shrugs. "He likes parties, and cake."
"You think –" John starts, then changes his mind.
John hesitates. "You think he'd come if it was you and me?"
"You've seen how much he loves Alex, haven't you?" John thinks about the first time O'Neill came to visit, back when they still lived in Cam's apartment. Teal'c had brought him, and John had seen his own apprehension reflected in Cam's eyes, the memory of what happened to O'Neill's son. They'd both, when Alex ran straight for O'Neill, said, "Alex," sharply, stepping forward to catch him. Instead, O'Neill had caught Alex under his arms, lifting him until they were at eye level.
"Hi," O'Neill had said. "You must be Alex who I've been hearing about for weeks."
John had never thought about the paperwork inherent in bringing a child home from another galaxy, but the thought had made him wince.
"Hello," Alex had said, one hand catching at O'Neill's collar until O'Neill pulled him closer, and it had been okay in ways John would never have expected.
"It'd be weird," he concludes. It would, but they'd invite O'Neill anyway, because in a slightly warped way, he's responsible for John and Cam stumbling upon each other again, and for Alex.
"When are our lives ever not?" Cam asks. "Come on, I think they're ready for us. I could use a drink."
"As could I," Teyla says, suddenly at their side. "That was a lovely ceremony."
"Short," Ronon adds. "Best kind."
"And no strange rituals." John meets the eyes of half of his old team and knows they're all thinking about the wedding ceremony they attended on a planet he can no longer remember the name of, where they each had to parade a small goat-like creature backwards in a circle at the start of the ceremony, then twice around the circle going forwards at the end. He's never found out what that was all about.
"As it should be," Kanaan says. He takes Teyla's hand and, after barely a moment of hesitation, Ronon's as well. "Allow me to purchase the drinks. I have been learning your monetary and purchasing system."
John wonders if he also learned that on Earth, men don't hold hands with both their male and female lovers in public, then decides that if they don't care, he won't care.
They're waylaid by Sam before they even make it over the threshold, and to John's surprise, she and Teyla exchange a warm hug. "It's good to see you again," Sam says.
"Indeed, it has been many days," Teyla agrees. "I do not think you and Kanaan ever met; Kanaan, Colonel Carter was once the leader of Atlantis."
"I've heard a lot about you," Sam says, shaking Kanaan's hand. "And Ronon, good to see you again." She turns back to Teyla. "How are things at home? Thanks for the pictures, by the way, I can't believe how big Torren's gotten."
John can't help it, turns to look for Alex at the mention of Torren, and can't see him. The trickle of anxiety down his spine is just as involuntary.
"We'll leave you guys to catch up," Cam says. "Got to find our son before McKay's niece leads them all into who knows what."
They leave Teyla, Ronon and Kanaan chatting to Sam and wander through the reception room.
"Cadman's got him," Cam says a moment before John spots Alex himself. He's still with Torren, though Madison and Robbie are nowhere to be seen. Torren's standing on the chair between Lorne and Cadman, Alex sitting on the table, Cadman's hand on his back while she says something to Vala, who's arranging her skirt so she can sit down. Both kids are intent on coloring something. "Did we bring crayons?" John asks.
"Do we ever not?" Cam counters. He pats his pockets and pulls out a small pack. "Apparently, we've trained our friends very well."
John gets distracted before he can say anything, watching Colby come over to the table, touch Lorne's shoulder and hand him a glass. Lorne looks up at him and smiles, and the guy leans over him to kiss Vala's cheek and shake Cadman's hand. They look so relaxed together, the four of them, comfortable in each other's space and with each other's secrets. John takes a breath, shoving down the moment of homesickness for his own team.
"Let's go say hi," he says.
Alex looks up then and spots them, immediately trying to scramble down. Cadman and Colby reach for him at the same moment, Alex wriggles, and for a moment, John's sure he's going to fall. Instead, Colby catches him, pulls him in close and holds him there.
"I think this one belongs to you," he says as John gets close, Alex already reaching out for him.
"Yeah," John says, willing his heart to stop pounding as he lifts Alex up and lets him cling to John. "Thanks."
John tries to put Alex down, but he holds on, even when John asks if he doesn't want to go back to coloring with Torren.
"He can have the red crayon," Torren offers solemnly. "Mama says to share, and I don't need it."
Colby waves it away. "I can make a run to the bar if you like. Since you've got your hands full."
Alex immediately starts trying to wriggle down. "I'm drawing," he says firmly.
"Guess not," John says. "Cam?"
Cam nods, taking the seat next to Lorne.
"White wine, thank you, John," Vala says. She slides a glance over to Cadman and adds, "Make that two."
"I hope you're planning to tip," John tells her, which she predictably ignores, and leaves them to it to head over to the bar.
Waiting to be served, he leans on the bar and watches the table. Or, really, watches Colby, who's watching Lorne as he and Cam have a very involved looking conversation about something. Colby's frowning slightly, and when Lorne shifts, makes an uncomfortable face, he rests one hand on Lorne's hip, smoothes his hand over where John knows it hurts worst.
Lorne barely does more than glance at him, gratitude shading his face for a moment, but Cadman's watching the two of them, pleasure and relief on her own face, and as John watches, Cam and Vala share a look too quick for John to read.
His homesickness feels stupid, then; he misses his team, of course he does, he was closer to them than he's been to anyone in years, but like this, in the middle of Rodney's wedding, surrounded by people he cares for, who care for each other, and for him and Cam and Alex...
"Sir, can I take your order please?" the man behind the bar asks, probably not for the first time, given the look of extreme patience on his face.
"Yeah," John says.
"John," Jennifer says brightly, the rustle of her dress announcing her a moment before she drops into what was Cam's chair. Her face is flushed, her eyes bright, and John honestly can't tell if she's drunk or just really happy. "Where's Alex?"
"Kanaan took him and Torren up to their room. They're probably asleep now."
John nods to the dance floor, where Cam and Sam are waltzing.
Jennifer watches them for a long moment, then laughs. "He's not very good."
"No," John agrees, since it's true. Cam's got plenty of skills, but Sam's a brave woman for offering to dance with him. "Where's Rodney?"
"You know what he said when I asked him to marry me?" Jennifer asks, her eyes warm as she seeks out Rodney, talking solemnly to Madison on the other side of the room. "Yes, as long as we don't have to dance at the wedding. Apparently it was a deal-breaker."
John picks out Cam and Sam again. She's leaning her forehead against his shoulder, laughing, and he's smiling, self-mockingly. He ducks his head slightly as Vala and Cadman spin past in a very formal waltz-hold, Vala leading, and says something to Sam that makes her straighten up and take his hand again. It doesn't help; Cam steps back as she does, and she nearly loses her balance.
He looks back at Jennifer, who's watching them a little longingly. "You want to show them how it's done?" he asks, before he can change his mind. He's the best man, it's pretty much his duty to dance with the bride (as long as he doesn't have to dance with any of her attendants; the height difference between him and Lorne is too much to dance, for starters).
"I'd be delighted," Jennifer says, and takes his hand.
She stands a little closer than they really should be to waltz, and something in John itches with the proximity. He pushes it away, holds her gaze, and steps into the dance, neat as he was when his mom sent him to ballroom classes as a kid. Weird the things that stick; weird the things that have ended up being useful during his Air Force career.
"You're good," Jennifer says, softly enough that he can barely hear her beneath the music.
"And you. Lessons as a kid?"
She ducks her head, laughing slightly. "Lessons in college, actually. I thought it would help me meet people."
"Not really, there weren’t enough boys, and most of the girls didn't want to dance with each other."
John turns them, only just missing Jeannie and Kaleb, and doesn't say anything.
"We miss you," Jennifer says after a handful of bars. "On Atlantis, it's not the same without you."
John looks away over the dance floor, just for a moment, because it feels good to hear that. Not easy – he misses Atlantis, worries about what's happening out there, feels like he should be there, like he left a fight that he hadn't finished, and debts that he hadn't paid – but good, to know that he hasn't been forgotten.
"I miss you all," he confesses quietly. It's easier like this, swallowed up in the crowd, talking to Jennifer who he doesn't know so well; who doesn't know him well enough to pull out the things he isn't saying the way his old team could.
Jennifer stops, forcing him to look at her. "I think it's good that you left," she says. "I think it's good for you, being here." John smiles slightly, not sure what to say. "Rodney's right, you are different now."
"Good different?" John asks, even though he's fairly sure he doesn't want to know what Rodney thinks, not really.
"Yes," Jennifer says firmly. "Alex needs you more than we did."
She squeezes the hand she's still holding, then, like she's doing it before she can persuade herself not to, hugs him. He hugs back, much more easily than he did before Cam and Alex, the easy way the three of them have learned to show affection.
"I'm happy for you," he says in her ear. "Both of you, you're good for each other."
"I know," she says, grinning. "Leave me alone now, I'm going to drag Rodney up here if it kills me. He can't say no now we're married."
"Good luck with that," John says doubtfully.
He has to step around Sam and Teal'c as he moves back across the dance floor, so he's not surprised to find Cam back at their seats, one elbow resting on the edge of the table, a glass half-full of wine hanging loosely from the other. He smiles when he sees John, shifts his chair a little closer and offers John the wine glass.
"You trying to steal the bride away from her husband already?"
"Yeah, but she told me only if I brought you along."
"Kinky," Cam says. "She's not my type."
Cam shakes his head. "I like brunettes. Older, teachers, fathers."
"You're right, she's not your type," John agrees, handing back the glass. "You cripple Carter?"
"She's says she's buying steel-toed boots before she dances with me again."
"Good thing my type doesn't have to have a sense of rhythm," John says lightly.
"Yeah." Cam moves his chair even closer to John's, close enough to slide his arm between the back of the chair and John's body, curl around his waist. John leans back into it, closing his eyes and letting the music and the voices wash over him. "Tired?" Cam asks.
"Not yet. We should go get Alex soon, he'll want to say goodbye to everyone before we go."
Cam's arm tightens around John, and he sighs. John blinks his eyes open, tilts his head until he can get a good look at Cam's face. His eyes are unfocussed, but he looks longing, the way Jennifer did as she watched everyone else dance.
"You want to dance?" John asks hesitantly. "With me?"
"No," Cam says. "But thanks," he adds, dropping a quick kiss to John's forehead. "I was just thinking."
"About what?" John pauses, then figures what the hell, it's not like everyone doesn't know he and Cam are together, and drops his head back to rest against Cam's shoulder. He feels Cam relax under it, and figures he must have done something right.
"What it would be like if this was our wedding," Cam says, and it's not as much of a surprise as John feels like it should be. "What you said, when we went to dinner with McKay and Jennifer, about what we'd do, if it was us." He shrugs, almost dislodging John. "I don't know. How things might have been, I suppose."
"We could do it," John offers, even knowing that, for him, it wouldn't mean much for not being legally binding and recognized the way Rodney and Jennifer's marriage is. He'd still do it, for Cam, and he knows it would be worth it.
Cam shakes his head. "You were right," he says. "It wouldn't be – I want it to be real, when we do it."
John loves the way Cam says when, no hesitation, no question. "It will be," he promises.
Cam falls quiet, humming along to the music under his breath. John lets his eyes close again – maybe he is tired, or at least ready to go home. He needs to check on Alex, despite knowing that Kanaan is perfectly capable of taking care of one sleeping child.
Instead, he slides his hand around until he can link his fingers through Cam's, pressing their hands together. Cam squeezes lightly. "Okay?" he asks.
John turns his head, not quite looking at Cam. "For better, for worse," he says, so quiet he's not sure Cam will even hear him. "For richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health –"
"Till death do us part," Cam says, ducking his head to speak right into John's ear. "Hopefully not for a very long time yet."
"Is this the part where there's a kiss?" John asks.
"I must have missed that earlier," Cam says, but he leans into it when John tips his head back and kisses him, a quick, light brush of their lips together. John even manages not to check and see who was watching them, though it's a near thing. Some habits are hard to break.
"Let's go get Alex," he says. "Let's go home."
Cam pulls back just enough to look at John. "We can stay. We should stay, they're all going home tomorrow, you can see us any day."
"I want to see you now," John says, knowing it's true. He thinks he'll always miss Atlantis and the people there, just a little, and they'll always be a part of his life, even if it's once a year visits for a couple of days. The truth is, though, that he's got a life on Earth like he never expected: not just Cam and Alex, but Cam's family, his own brother, the school, their next door neighbors, the ex-Lanteans who keep coming around like they still belong to him. "Come on."
Kanaan looks half-asleep when he opens the hotel room door, and hushes them before they can step inside. "Both of them fell asleep as soon as they lay down. It has been a long day for them both."
Alex and Torren are curled up in the middle of the bed, looking like a couple of puppies draped over each other, but Alex stirs as soon as John picks him up. "Daddy?"
"Yeah, buddy. How about we go home and you can sleep in your own bed?"
Alex lays his head against John's shoulder, and Cam moves past Kanaan to stroke his hair back. "'Kay."
"Thanks again," Cam says to Kanaan, shaking his hand. "Safe trip home tomorrow."
"I believe it will be so," Kanaan agrees. "Until we meet again."
"Say goodbye?" Alex asks sleepily as they ride the elevator back down to the reception room.
"If you think you can stay awake," Cam agrees. Alex pulls his head up straight, his eyes going very wide.
"Stay awake," he says firmly.
"You're leaving?" Jennifer demands the moment they step back into the reception room, causing half a dozen people in her near vicinity to turn and look at them. "I thought you two were going to dance."
"I wouldn't," Sam warns. "Not if you value your toes."
John nods his agreement. "Alex needs to be in bed, and we can't impose on Kanaan all night."
"I thought it was part of the best man's duty to, I don't know, decorate the car with embarrassing images or something," Rodney says.
"You're getting a cab to the airport," Ronon puts in.
"That's not the point!"
"John is right," Teyla says, diplomatic as ever. "It is past time young men were in their own beds." She touches Alex's back, then lifts her fingertips to press against his forehead, almost like a blessing, the way she touched him when they said goodbye on Atlantis. "Be good, Alex. I will see you again."
Ronon scoops Alex away before John can think, and he finds himself bending his head to touch his forehead to Teyla's, breathing in her familiar calm. "Was good to see you again."
"As it was you, though our time together was brief. I am sure it will not be the last time."
"Of course not," John says firmly. "Maybe we'll come to you next time. Remind Alex what else is out there."
They won't, and he knows it – there's no-one at the SGC who'd even think of giving permission for a three-year-old child to be told about the most classified mission Earth's ever known – but it's a nice thought. Maybe one day, when Alex is older and the wraith are dead, or at least on their side.
"One day," Teyla agrees, echoing his thoughts. She steps back, taking Cam's hand, but whatever she says to him is lost in Ronon grabbing John and pulling him into a hug that's more like a football tackle. Alex is in Jennifer's arms, tapping her earring to make it swing, fascinated.
"Send more chocolate," Ronon says firmly.
"I'll do my best."
"Dark chocolate," Rodney adds, reaching for John's hand. "The expensive kind."
"Anything for you, McKay," John agrees. "Congratulations, seriously."
Rodney takes Jennifer's hand in his left, grinning at her. He looks really happy – the kind of uncomplicated happiness John didn't see much of on Atlantis, where Rodney's happiness was as much about proving his superiority as anything else. "Thanks for doing this," Rodney says. "It really means a lot to me."
The last of John's resentment – for the way Rodney reacted to John leaving with Alex, for not being told Rodney was engaged – melts away, washed clean by the awkward, sincere way Rodney shows his affection. "Any time," he says.
"This should be the last time," Jennifer says tartly, grinning.
"I hope so," John says.
He turns, finds Cam holding Alex, who's drooping half-asleep in his arms. "Time to go?"
"Hold on," someone says, and John looks up, sees Colby and Lorne standing on the edge of the circle they've inadvertently formed. It must have been Colby who spoke, but Lorne's the one who moves forward.
"I have to give someone back to his rightful owner," he says, looking at Alex, who stirs and grins at him. Then, when Lorne reaches into his pocket and produces Whale, grins even more brightly, reaching out with one grasping hand. "Thanks for letting him look after me."
"Whale," Alex says happily, cuddling him close.
"You've got good timing," Cam tells Lorne, who smiles. "And a good memory."
"No whales allowed in Atlantis," Lorne says.
"Quite rightly," Rodney agrees.
John's definitely not up for round two hundred and whatever of Rodney's Complicated Relationship With Whales. "Well, now that's settled, we really are going."
Alex is asleep again by the time Cam's strapping him into his car seat, John sending a quick text to Cadman to remind her that she and Vala will need to get a cab home. Alex doesn't stir even as they both climb into the car, John in the driver seat, and slam the doors on the night cool air.
John hesitates for a moment with the key in the ignition, drinking in their little bubble of stillness, the sound of Alex's snuffly breathing in sleep, and Cam's slow, even breathing next to him.
"That was a good night," Cam says quietly.
"Yeah." John turns the key, the engine sparking to life. "Time to go home."