John is used to gating back and forth from Atlantis to Cheyenne Mountain, used to the faint disorientation and nausea that comes with it. Not his favorite feeling, but he can cope with it; just as he copes with the ache in his bad leg. Despite that, he limps from the gateroom to the lab he shares with Daniel Jackson. The room is empty and he drops his pack on the floor and collapses into his chair. There is a note stuck on his computer monitor. He rubs his eyes, takes his glasses out and quickly scans the contents. He's out the door before his desk chair stops spinning.
"What happened?" he asked Carolyn Lam. "He was fine when I left two days ago. How can something like this happen so quickly?"
She looks at him with pity. "It's not an ordinary virus. It seems to be some sort of mutation of the Prior virus we encountered last year. Cam -- Colonel Mitchell -- should have been protected, but his previous immunity seems to have a vulnerability."
"How bad is it?" John's heart is pounding in his chest and his voice sounds tight and unnatural.
Dr. Lam shrugs, helpless and hating that she has to hazard a guess. "We've given him the latest anti-viral medications. Physically, he's holding his own."
"Physically? There's more?"
"He's been unconscious for three days.We've kept him like that until his fever broke."
"Isn't that called a coma?" John is beyond alarmed at this point. His mind has gone into crisis-mode, calm and analytical despite the upheaval in his heart and stomach.
Lamb looks abashed. "Sorry. I'm getting used to dealing with military personnel who are more interested in why and how, not what."
"I understand. Can I see him?"
"Absolutely. Right now, we're trying to bring him back to consciousness. I've reduced the amount of medication, so he should be waking up."
She leads John to a curtained-off cubicle where Cam is lying on a hospital bed surrounded by monitors and IVs. He is pale, his eyes are closed. He looks like he's sleeping, not like he's in a medically induced coma. Lam looks at the machines, at the data pad in her hand and makes a few notations. "I'll be right outside if he wakes up." She backs out of the cubicle and twitches the curtains closed.
John knows they're not alone; that privacy at the SGC is an illusion. DADT has been abolished, but that doesn't mean he wants to 'out' Cam, or himself, in view of the security cameras. He takes Cam's hand. "Hey, flyboy. Time to wake up," he says softly. "Cam? Come on. Open those baby blues."
He taps against Cam's knuckles. Cam moves slightly. His eyelids quiver with motion and then flutter open. They close again, as if they are too heavy, then flutter open again. A frown creases his forehead. "Thirsty." The word is a croak, barely a whisper. John reaches for the cup on the bedside table and holds the straw to Cam's lips. He waits as Cam takes a few sips.
"Thanks," Cam says, his voice stronger and no more rough than usual. John loves Cam's voice. It sounds like chocolate chip cookies, which isn't something John could explain to anybody but himself. "Welcome back," John says. "You gave everybody a scare."
"What happened?" Cam is looking at him, puzzled.
"Virus. Laid you flat."
"Okay ... " He looks around, taking in the medical equipment. "How long was I out?"
Cam is silent. He looks at John. "You're not a doctor. Do I know you?"
John's world tilts on its axis and he has to grip the arms of his chair. He takes a deep breath to keep from hyperventilating. He had expected just about anything but this, and he struggles to hold his voice steady. "John. John Sheppard. I'm gonna get Dr. Lam. Don't go anywhere."
Cam laughs. "Right."
John finds Lam waiting outside. "He's awake, but ..."
"I don't think he's running on all cylinders. He seems to have some memory issues."
Lam heads inside and John stands there, straining to hear the conversations which consists of a series of standard questions from Lam. Cam knows who he is, knows Lam, he even recognizes the SGC, and dutifully recites all the expected answers; but he doesn't remember John. He's slept with him, made love to him, promised to be there for him, and now he doesn't know who John is.
Lam emerges from Cam's cubicle. She is frowning, obviously baffled. "I don't know. It could be temporary amnesia caused by the fever, or it could be some side effect of the mutated virus. I don't know ..." she repeats helpless. "I'm sorry, I know you're friends. All we can do is wait."
"I'm not so good at waiting," John sighs. "Okay. Can I see him again?"
"I don't see why not. It might even help jog his memory. Just don't push him."
John nods and goes back inside where Cam is looking a little freaked by what he does and doesn't remember. His eyes widen. "So, who are you again?"
"Dr. John Sheppard -- PhD, not MD. I'm usually off-world."
"Umm, yeah. When I'm here, we ... um ... share a condo in Colorado Springs. Neither one of us is here often and we're friends, so it kind of made sense."
Cam smiles. "I can deal with that. Lam says I can get out of here by the end of the week. Are you going to be around?"
"For another two weeks or so. I'm working on a project with Dr. Lee and Colonel Carter."
The lines in Cam's forehead have smoothed out and he seems relaxed but tired. John can't help touching his shoulder to re-establish a physical bond between them. "Get some rest and I'll stop by in the morning." Cam settles deeper into the pillows; the movement so damn familiar that John aches. He brushes Cam's hair lightly with the side of his hand and leaves before he makes a complete fool of himself.
He's in Jackson's lab studying an apparently insoluble equation -- or maybe just insoluble in his current state of mind, when Colonel Carter looks in. "Hi, John."
He glances up, not knowing that he resembles an exhausted hedgehog. Sam smiles gently at him. "Come and have some dinner with me before they close up the mess?"
He hadn't really been thinking about food, but he realizes he's hungry, thirsty and in need of some company. His head hurts and his eyes feel like sandpaper is lining the lids. "I could use a break," he admits.
The food in the mess isn't great, but John orders fried chicken and the infamous 'tater tots, fruit salad and coffee. The meal weighs down his stomach so it no longer feels like it's flip-flopping around in his abdomen. He and Sam talk a bit about the project he's working on, about Dr. Lee, and the Stargate projects they're working on. It isn't until he's nearly finished with his coffee that Sam tackles the issue of Cam's amnesia.
"It has to be hard," she sympathizes, "not knowing if he'll remember you."
John isn't sure how much Sam really knows. "He remembers a lot, but not ..." He stops, afraid that he's whining. "I don't know how to help him."
"Just be there. He knows he can trust you. That's instinct, not memory."
John drains his coffee mug. "I have to get back to work. Those equations aren't going to solve themselves."
"It will be all right," Sam says. Her grip firms on his forearm. "Even if you have to start from square one."
John can deal with that. He'd rather Cam remember him, but if he has to woo and win him again, he will. He works in the dim lab until the numbers start cooperating. He finishes the first problem, emails the results to Dr. Lee and to Rodney on Atlantis before he closes up the lab. On his way out, he stops to check up on Cam. The IVs have been pulled and most of the monitoring equipment has been removed from his cubicle. Cam is curled on his side, one hand palm up on the pillow, utterly relaxed. John envies him. His own sleep is more likely to be fractured and restless; he's used to it. He always sleeps better next to Cam, but he doubts that will happen any time soon.
The next two days are hectic, including a day on the Odyssey installing new software to interface with the Asgard tech. When he beams down to SGC, the first place he heads is to the infirmary. Cam is sitting up, looking healthy and gorgeous. "Sheppard," he says. "Can you get me out of here?"
"Not without release orders from Dr. Lam. She scares me." John grins and Cam laughs. He waves a paper at John.
"Got it an hour ago."
"Okay. I have to see Dr. Lee about the work on the Odyssey. I'll be back in thirty minutes. Is that enough time for you to get ready?"
"Plenty." He starts taking off the scrub top he's wearing, giving John a glimpse of his honed body; almost too honed, John thinks, planning meals to pad those ribs he can nearly count. "Sheppard?"
John blushes, caught looking and hopes Cam doesn't notice. "I'm on my way," he says and hurries out before Cam does see the flush on his cheeks. He finishes with Bill Lee, leaving him to mutter over John's magical solution to an equation that had defeated him for weeks. John can't help his smirk as he heads down to the infirmary. Cam is just heading down the hall towards the lab when he sees John.
"That is a self-satisfied look if I've ever seen one."
"How often do you get to shut up McKay and dumbfound Bill Lee in one day? I'm entitled."
"I'm not arguing with that. Can we go home?"
For a brief, heart-stopping moment, John thinks Cam has remembered everything, but Cam avoids touching him as they walk down the corridor and keeps his hands stuffed into the pockets of his fatigues.
He gives a whistle at John's vintage Camaro and runs a finger along the glistening fender. "Sweet."
"Thanks. We ... you helped me work on it."
"It used to be ... silver?"
"Close. Gold ... or mostly rust."
Cam is silent through most of the drive home, and John didn't force conversation. Maybe something would jog Cam's memory. He is looking out the window, his eyes searching for clues or memories. John can almost feel his mounting panic. What do you say to somebody who is searching for something that might be forever lost? He takes a deep breath.
"It's not important," he says. "It's like being in a strange city. You might not know your way around at first, but you'll learn it."
"It's not a strange city. It's my home!" Cam's fist hits the dashboard, startling John, who nearly swerves into the next lane. "Aww, fuck! I'm sorry."
"Stop apologizing." He makes the turn into their development. He drives slowly, not for Cam's benefit, but because it's a school day and there are kids at this end. The block they live on is mostly professional adults, and nearly deserted during the day. It's quiet, orderly. He pulls into the drive. "Home, sweet home."
Cam takes it in for a minute, searching for something to hang his memory on. "Doesn't look too shabby," Cam says finally. He gets out of the car while John takes his briefcase out of the back of the Camaro.
Cam opens the front door and John blinks at him. "You don't recognize the house, but you know which key opens the door?"
Cam looks at the key in his fingers. "Yeah. That's weird."
"Maybe it means you're just trying too hard to remember. Just let things come back on their own. I'm not a psychologist, but I spent a week staring at an equation that nobody could solve. I walked away from it for a few days and when I came back to it ... it all made sense."
"Life isn't a math problem," Cam sighs and pushes the door open. "Which is a real shame."
"Because I have a live-in math geek." John grimaces at the term and Cam shakes his head. "Sorry, I mean that in the nicest way."
"I am a geek," John admits. "I just don't always see myself as one."
"A geek with a gun," Cam mutters, then. "How did I know that?"
"See. No pressure." He peers at Cam. "You look tired, and I have work to do. I'll wake you up for dinner. Burgers okay?"
"Perfect." Cam ambles off to the master bedroom. John has already moved his things into the guest room. He hates this. It feels wrong to be angry, but he is. Life might not be fair, but does it have to mock him? Frustrated, he opens his briefcase, takes out his laptop and settles on the couch. There is something calming in the non-emotional order of mathematics. He sets an alert on his cell phone for an hour and goes back to the, literal, problem at hand.
He works right through the alert tone. He isn't aware of the growing darkness, the passage of time. Lost in numbers, lost in the possibilities, the probabilities. He doesn't hear Cam come downstairs. He doesn't look up until Cam turns on a lamp and sits on the chair opposite the sofa.
John blinks at him, squinting slightly in the light. He looks at his watch, at his cell phone and curses. "I'm sorry. I tend to get lost in my work."
"It's okay. I'm not that hungry." He is silent for a moment, his expression slipping from doubt to determination. "Sheppard -- John. There are a few things that aren't adding up for me. I might need that math brain of yours."
John leans forward, as does Cam; they are close, so close that John can see the pulse beating at the angle of Cam's jaw, feel the warmth rising from his skin. "I'll do my best." His voice is slightly breathless.
"There are things I just know, right? Like the key to the front door. I know I'm a pilot. I know I'm the leader of SG-1. I remember Sam, and Daniel Jackson and Teal'c. I know I'm from Kansas, and I know I'm gay."
John's heart thumped unevenly in his chest. "So what's not adding up?"
"You. Me. We live together -- and I mean that in the sense that we live together." Cam's brow lifts. "Right?"
"Yeah, we do."
"I know I'm not a casual kind of guy, and I don't think you are, either."
"Cam, listen. Forcing this might not be the best idea. Lam says --"
"I know what she says." He looks at John earnestly. "It's like trying to grasp a leaf just out of reach. If I can stretch just a fraction of an inch more, it will be in my hands. I want to reach. I don't want to wait for some shift of the wind to bring the leaf closer. What happens if it blows it out of my grasp forever?"
"It seems you know how this all adds up without me."
"For a genius, you're kind of dense, Sheppard. It only adds up with you." Cam holds out his hand and John takes it. They stand up and Cam puts his arms around John's waist. It's achingly familiar and John leans into his body. Cam tilts his head and moves just close enough for their lips to touch. Shy, tentative at first, then it's not enough to be chaste, to be strangers.
When they part, Cam's expression is faintly bemused. "I should remember that," he said.
"It's pretty damn memorable, but don't sweat it if you can't."
"I'm hungry," Cam says. "Something tells me I'm going to need my strength."
John is suddenly serious. "We don't have to do this. Maybe we shouldn't until you really remember."
"Eat?" There is relief mingled with the laughter in Cam's eyes that he can't hide from John, but he puts his arm around his shoulder. It's comfortable, familiar, and it makes John's throat hurt with longing for the way things ought to be.
"I could get used to this," Cam says as they walk towards the kitchen. For the moment, it feels like the last week has never happened.
It isn't that simple, and John doesn't expect it to be, not really. Sometimes, he thinks Cam remembers everything, but it could be that they would connect on some level no matter where or how they met. He can't trust Cam's memory and he won't push intimacy until Cam truly remembers what he and John shared in the past. He needs time, and time is a luxury John doesn't have. His return to Atlantis is delayed by a week while the Daedalus is retrofitted with the new Asgard interface John had been working on, but when that is done, he'll have to go back to the city. They need him there more than SGC needs him here. More than Cam needs him. At the moment he's nothing more than a fucked up memory lurking in Cam's brain.
The summons comes at the end of the week. John has two hours to pack and present himself at SGC to gate back to Atlantis. That he is gating back and not returning on the Daedalus, tells him that the situation is serious. Two Wraith Hive ships are heading towards Atlantis, purpose unknown. They're still a week away, but the threat is very real.
He doesn't expect Cam to be home when he returns to the condo to pack up the few personal belongings he's carrying back to Atlantis, but the front door opens at his touch. "Mitchell?" John throws his keys on the hall table. "You home?"
"Back here." His voice comes from the office and since John's laptop is there, he heads that way.
He is sitting at the desk, looking through photographs. John knows he's searching for memories that are missing. He stands in the doorway and tries to keep breathing. Cam is wearing jeans and a long-sleeved blue chambray shirt. He looks thinner, younger than he does in his fatigues, and even though John knows every inch of that body as intimately as he knows his own, Cam still makes him stop in his tracks.
"You're back early," Cam says, not looking up.
"I'm going back to Atlantis." Cam looks up from the picture, the question unspoken, but clear. John answers it before he can give it voice. "In two hours."
"That sounds serious."
"It is." John sits down on the couch. "I can't refuse."
"I figured that out." Cam's fingers wander across the photographs spread on the desk. He pauses, picks one up. "I was going through these. I thought it might help straighten a few things out in my brain and I found this one ..." He stands up and sits next to John. "This is Kansas, right?"
John nods. The picture is one of his favorites. In it, he and Cam are standing close; hips and shoulders touching as they lean against a split-rail fence. Cam is looking at John, and John's hand is on Cam's arm as he leans in a little to fit in the frame. Cam's sister, Cathy, took the picture, and John is pretty sure Cam has told her about his and John's relationship, otherwise, she wouldn't have chosen that one shot to send to them both.
"It was taken last summer. We spent a week's leave to in Kansas with with your folks, to give them time to get used to the idea that we were -- are -- together."
"How'd they take it?" Cam asked.
"Pretty well," John says. "We owe a lot to Cath. She kind of showed your folks the way -- this picture -- your mom cried and put it in a frame."
He can hear Cam draw a deep breath. "So, we're not just good friends with benefits."
John swallows. "We're lovers, Cam. We love each other. We made a commitment to be together."
"I didn't know." Cam sounds stricken. "I'm sorry."
"You don't remember. That's a big difference. It's not your fault."
"It hurts you."
John isn't good with this ... with this emotion he sees in Cam. It's too big for his heart. He doesn't know where to put it. The pain in Cam's expression that mirrors his own is unbearable. For the first time since Cam's memory loss, John throws down caution and grabs Cam by the front of his shirt, pulling him close before he can object or shove John away.
The kiss is rough, hard, deep. John feels Cam's shock clear through his body, but he doesn't stop. He pushes harder and Cam grips him; not to break away but to bring him closer, to rub his crotch against John's, to slide his hands beneath the waist of John's jeans.
John knows he should object. He should stop this ... now, but he started it and God knows he needs to finish it ... to find a connection to Cam that the virus hasn't destroyed. He wants the bruises he knows Cam will leave on his skin. He wants the ache and burn of raw sex, because they are real and if not imprinted in Cam's memory, at least they will be imprinted in his. He doesn't want to die without that memory burned into both of them.
They are tearing at each other's clothes, panting, cursing at buttons and buckles. Cam wrestles John beneath him and yanks his jeans and boxers down, awkward with John trying to toe off his running shoes. He hears them hit the floor. Cam pulls off John's jeans and half-kneeling, half-standing, lets John open his fly and free his cock.
John sits up enough to take Cam into his mouth, to suck him off until his taste fills John's mouth, until his scent of soap and musk is all he can breathe. Cam pushes him back, kisses his own taste into John's mouth.
"I don't have anything," he rasps. "It will hurt."
"Fuck that. I don't give a damn," John pants. He smears his come onto Cam's fingers, guides him down between his legs. He can feel Cam's tension running beneath his skin like a fine electric current. "You won't hurt me," he whispers. "You can't." It's a lie, but he's beyond caring. He just wants Cam buried deep inside him. Cam's semen is hot and slick as he rubs his cock against John's anus. John braces for it; for the stretch and burn. His breath hitches sharply as Cam pushes into his body, but he won't let him pull away. He closes his eyes, not wanting Cam to see anything but pleasure.
Cam stills, his dog tags brushing John's chest, the chain pooling on his skin as hot as a brand. He fills John. He is in him, one with him and John can't breathe. He opens his eyes to find Cam trembling above him. "Move," he whispers.
It's not tender, it's not easy. It's raw heat and lightning, pleasure on the razor's edge of pain. Then it is exquisite. John, lost in sensation, isn't sure when things change, but in the instant before Cam comes -- in that single, vulnerable breath -- John sees the shift in Cam's eyes, the flash from passion to pure love.
He remembers.They are both too far into the physical rush of climax to pull back, to marvel. John lets go and falls.
"I remember," Cam finally says when the tremors of climax and the rush of making love fade into warmth and familiarity. John is always amazed how their bodies align, how the equations of physicality and emotion balance perfectly. There is no logic he can apply to solve the reality of what he and Cam are, what they equal.
"I know," John finally replies. Cam is idly stroking through his unruly hair. "I saw it."
"I don't know how that happened."
John's analytical mind doesn't want to analyze why or how this miracle has happened. He pulls Cam down for a kiss. "I still have to leave in an hour."
They shower, relearning skin and muscle; new scars and old. Cam touches a long, narrow score on John's chest. "I thought you weren't supposed to get hurt."
"It's another galaxy. They don't keep me wrapped in cotton wool." He kisses Cam's shoulder which also carries a new scar. "Neither are you."
Cam laughs, wide and free, with water droplets beading on his eyelashes as he kisses John's wet lips. "I'll remember that."
"You better remember everything," John says. "I'm not sure I can survive this again."
Cam reaches over his shoulder and turns off the water as John reaches for the oversize bath towel hanging on the bar. When they reluctantly part, John dresses in the black Atlantis fatigues he's grown used to wearing.
Cam is leaning on the bedroom door, watching him. He's still in civvies, jeans and a t-shirt. "Let me drive you to Cheyenne and see you off?"
"I'd like that."
"I'm sure Landry will be thrilled to learn that I've recovered my memory. Back to business as usual."
"Is it ever usual?"
"You want to quit?"
John thinks of Atlantis, of his team, of the wonders that lie beyond the gate. "Not yet. But someday." He shoulders his bag. "Time to go."
Cam kisses him for one last time, and John smiles. "Don't forget me."
"As long as one of us remembers, we'll always find our way back to you and me."
Cam laughs, when John rolls his eyes. "That sounds like a really bad country song."
"There's truth in them thar words," Cam mocks himself, and John loves him so much in that moment that it hurts.
John stands on the ramp waiting for the dialing sequence to lock in. He knows Cam is watching him and he wishes he could reach back and drag Cam right through the gate with him. Instead, as the horizon rushes open, he turns and looks around the gateroom, his gaze stopping on Cam. He smiles, lifts his hand and steps through the gate. It's another song he's hearing; this one full of heartbreak and hope.
Gave you the space so you could breathe,
I kept my distance so you would be free,
And hope that you find the missing piece,
To bring you back to me,
Why don't you remember?
Don't you remember?
The reason you loved me before,
Baby, please remember me once more,
When will I see you again?
(Adele, Don't You Remember)