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The Color of a Burning Brook

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“Ronon and I are gonna scout ahead, make sure the gate’s clear,” Cam says, turning towards the trio behind him. His face is pale, his knuckles white where they grip the P-90 pointed defensively towards the path in front of them.

“Go, we’ll be fine,” Teyla reassures, catching the Colonel’s worried stare. He nods, takes one last look at Sheppard, sandwiched between Teyla and Doctor McKay struggling to hold him upright, as he walks on wobbly legs behind Cam. His right eye is swollen and bruised and his lip is split, but what worries Cam most is the trail of blood from his nose and both his ears. The only other time he’s seen an injury like that was a few years back, when Jackson got a hold of an ancient device that gave him precognitive powers, every time he had a vision he’d nearly black out.

“M’fine Cameron,” Sheppard says, and the slur of his words aren’t very comforting to Cam but he nods once in disbelief and turns away, disappearing through the trees in front of him.

“I really think we dismissed the whole ‘send malp ahead on every mission idea’ a little too early,” McKay says, huffing, Sheppard’s arm heavy around his shoulder.

“Woulda come anyway,” Sheppard points out, voice strained.

“Yes, but we could have been more heavily armed, and Atlantis would’ve expected us back sooner,” McKay counters.

“No one could have predicted the planet would have been inhabited by—“ Teyla starts, reasonably.

“Psychopathic war-hungry sadists?” McKay suggests helpfully, “they make the Genii look like peaceful agrarians.”

“It is curious how the Satraxans have managed to culturally advance to such a degree without having encountered the wraith,” Teyla remarks.

“Benefit of living on the outskirts of the Pegasus Galaxy,” McKay says.

“This is fascinating,” Sheppard remarks, pushing Teyla and McKay away and trying to stand on his own, “But can it wait?” He stumbles forward.

John,” Teyla says, moving forward to steady him.

“I’m fine Teyla,” he says, gritting his teeth.

“No, you are really not John, what did they—“ she starts and John stands up straighter. Teyla sighs heavily. “You are trying, poorly, to compensate for emotional vulnerability by appearing physically capable. But you are not, John, and you’ll hurt yourself further if you do not allow Rodney and me to assist you,” she reprimands. John stares at her, eyes wide, and allows himself to be pulled into her steadying side.

“I’m not over compensating,” he grumbles, as McKay slings his other arm over his shoulder once more.

“Of course not,” McKay says, only half paying attention.

“What I don’t get,” McKay starts, “is how these Sitoxons—“

“Satraxans.”

“Yeah, could be so advanced to be able to use ancient technology, but have a serious lack of general intelligence of our team.”

“What?” Sheppard asks.

“I mean Mitchell,” he says, in complete disbelief. “They choose Colonel Citrus to get you to talk? I mean everyone knows I’m your best friend,” McKay says.

“Rodney,” Teyla warns.

“You’re…upset that you weren’t tortured?” John asks in disbelief.

“Well obviously not,” McKay says, flustered. “I just meant…why him? You barely even know him. Alright you have a lot in common and you hang out a lot I guess, but you’ve made a career out of saving my ass, so why him?”

“McKay,” John shakes his head and pushes away once more. “Forget it, alright?” he says.

“John,” Teyla says, soft and careful, but doesn’t move to help him.

“No, even Teyla and Ronon moved in front of me when the guards came in,”

Rodney,” Teyla says, her voice clipped.

“Drop it McKay,” John warns, voice level.

“Fine,” he says, irritated. John grudgingly allows Teyla to thread her arm through his own as they walk. They make it nearly a yard when McKay sighs heavily,

“It’s just—“

“McKay!” John snaps.

“I’m your best friend!” McKay shouts.

“Yeah,” John says, turning towards him, heat rising in his face and his voice cracking, “and he’s my husband.”

***

12 hours earlier

“None of my people have been able to activate the device,” the tall Satraxan scientist, Kalvar, motions to the wall beside Sheppard and the rather large heavily armed guards flanking either side of him. Set into the smooth stone is a device, eerily familiar to Sheppard. A series of small dark gray rings set one one top of the next protrudes out of the wall, what looks like a blank computer screen set in its deep center.

“I’m sorry about that,” John replies, smiling at the scientist, “wish I could help.”

“Yes, well you can.”

“Oh? Wonderful,” he says, not sounding it.

“You live in the home of the Ancestors.”

“Yes...but I’m not an Ancestor,” John explains, “also, I’m pretty sure I’m younger than you,” he tries.

“Please, step forward,” the Satraxan says, raising an eyebrow at him. John hesitates, but the press of a gun to his back is pretty good incentive and he steps forward reluctantly.

“You know, I had a friend who used one of these and he sort of went a little,” and John rotates his finger in a clockwise direction beside his temple, “woohoo,” he whistles. Kalvar fixes him with a bemused stare before he gestures once more to the repository.

“Right.” John steps up to the device.

“We believe you need only—“ the scientist begins before a great whirring noise his heard, the repository lighting up and extending toward John’s face, latching onto him. The sensation is quite curious, his pulse quickening, throbbing in his temples where the device is attached. It feels as though a current is flowing into him while a kaleidoscope of colors whirls in front of his eyes. In a few short seconds it’s over and the device unlatches from his face and John drops to the floor, dizzy.

“Whoa,” he says, shaking his head.

“Excellent,” the Satraxan says, smiling, pleased. The guards lift him up off the floor and push him forward a few feet, just in time to miss the device giving one last whirr of power before shorting out, and exploding.

***

“We are prepared to let you go, once the information we seek has been attained,” the leader of the Satraxan people, Molek, explains, his hands clasped behind his robed back, staring at the team behind the bars of their prison.

“Great,” Sheppard says, regaining his balance after having been unceremoniously shoved into the cell.

“And what would that be, huh?” McKay asks, crossing his arms over his chest defiantly.

“That is a complicated question Doctor McKay,” Molek says, pacing.

“I think I might have the intellectual capacity to grasp it,” McKay snarks, Sheppard shoots him a withering look.

“Our people found this planet uninhabited several centuries ago. Our home world was depleted of natural resources after nearly a thousand years of constant warring. A group of scientists discovered the Ring of the Ancestors after it had been buried in a nuclear attack nearly two hundred years previous. Our people were once again able to travel amongst other worlds as our ancestors had done. With the discovery of the Ring came the discovery of an address to a world on which the Ancestors built a laboratory to study and research new and powerful weapons.”

“Yeah, sort of why we’re here too,” Sheppard comments. Molek pauses and considers him before continuing.

“When our people arrived we worked tirelessly to discover the secrets this world possesses, and after many years were able to master a considerable amount of the technology, working to make our own compatible with those of the Ancients. In our research we discovered references to a device, a powerful piece of weaponry that would allow its owner a considerable advantage in any conflict. Like many such advances there came great costs, and the lack of evidence turning up as to its location caused dissention amongst the Satraxans, and eventually resulted in civil war.”

“Always the case, isn’t it?” Sheppard remarks, “but what exactly do you want us for?”

“Though the location of the weapon has so far eluded us in our research, our scientists have discovered a device believed to contain, not only the exact location but many other invaluable secrets this world still holds.”

“Ah, so with the face sucky,” Sheppard says, motioning to his own head. McKay gives him a confused look. “Ancient repository.”

“No, you didn’t,” McKay sighs, closing his eyes tight. John sees Cam’s fingers twitch by his side as he reaches out, before dropping his hand back down and looking away, toward Molek.

“Didn’t have much choice there Rodney,” he says, “besides, I think it was fairly specific, didn’t give me much, don’t really feel any smarter either. I’m still speaking English right?” he asks.

“Unfortunately the device has been destroyed,” Molek says, and they turn back towards him. “Which means Sheppard is now the only person with the information we need. I would advise strongly that he discloses the location of the weapon to us. We have many methods of…persuasion.”

“Great.”

“I will return shortly for your decision, colonel.”

***

“Well why not?” McKay hisses, “who cares if they blow each other up?”

“Because McKay, they know about Atlantis, home of the powerful Ancient technology, you think they’re going to sit back and be content to blow themselves up?”

“Well they said they’d let us go, we can just…come back.”

“For a genius McKay you’re the stupidest person I’ve ever met,” Mitchell sighs.

“Oh well fuck you.”

“Flattered, but you’re not my type.”

***

Cam’s vision blacks out for a second as a fist catches a blow to the side of his head, his eye feels like it’s about to explode as he stumbles back, and an energy weapon beam whizzes past him once, before another connects with his shin and he shouts, going down.

Stop!” he hears John’s voice, angry and desperate somewhere beside him and he opens his eye, sees, blinking out blood, Sheppard with his hands up in defeat.

Teyla is pinned to the ground beneath a heavy guard, Ronon shoved up against a stone wall by several others and McKay is cowering in a corner.

“I’m going, alright? Peacefully,” John says, allowing himself to be manhandled out of the cell. Cam bites his tongue, and glares daggers at the guard’s retreating backs.

***

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”

The priest’s voice fades, crackles like white noise in John’s ears as he watches the polished mahogany box being lowered into the ground. As it slides away from view the soft curled rose petals are the last thing he sees before it and his mother disappear forever.

Dave’s hand feels small in his own sweaty trembling one, his brother crying softly beside him. His father is rigid and silent on his other side, his arms crossed at the wrist in front of him. John’s face is dry, and Dave will wonder if he ever cried for her, later, when he’s angry and bitter. John won’t know how he ever stopped.

There’s someone screaming and it wrenches John’s attention away from the blue sky and the stretch of green broken only by the jut of head stones. He realizes as the world sharpens into focus around him, that it is he who is screaming. Deep and guttural, like an animal eviscerated and it chills him as he comes back down. He twitches in his seat, his ankles and wrists bound by heavy metallic straps, his spine uncomfortably bent, his head held in place by the tangle of wires and the prick of a needle puncturing the base of his skull.

“Interesting,” he hears a voice from behind him say. John blinks tears out of his eyes, there’s a screen in front of him connected to the platform his chair is built into. It resembles the control chair, but the various instruments around it aren’t of Ancient design, and John reckons they’ve integrated their own technology into it. The screen that was blank only moments ago, when he’d first been forced into the ominous looking contraption now shows a blurry image of a cemetery, and what John realizes, horribly, is his own memory.

“His physiological response seems to confirm the read out. Interesting that the control memory appears to be negative in origin. I merely wanted to calibrate the device to him.” Sheppard doesn’t really understand any of what the scientists around him are saying, his head throbs painfully, and his stomach is writhing.

“We will find the information we seek Colonel, this however—“

“If you actually say in any clichéd form ‘we can do this the easy way’ I might have to kill you,” John says, voice strained, “harder than I was planning to anyway.”

“Very well,” the scientist from earlier smiles eerily at him, “than we shall continue.”

John’s entire body thrashes in his chair, his head is certainly going to explode as his eyes roll back and

“But why?” John asks, trying to keep the petulance from creeping into his voice. “I don’t see why we have to leave.”

“Because, I’m going to be gone for—“ his father starts, irritated.

“You’ve been gone loads of times before and you’ve never sent us away.”

“It’s different now John.” But John is shaking his head, crossing his arms over his skinny chest.

“How? How is it different?” He asks, his voice rising, breaking.

“Because she—“ his father stops and turns away.

“Because she was the only one that gave a shit?” He snaps.

“Hey!” His father shouts, pointing sternly at him, fire in his pale eyes. His expression softens. “Don’t. Of course I care—“

“Yeah, I can see that, well absence makes the heart grow fonder, bet you’re drowning in the fond by now,” John says, voice defeated as he turns and stalks out of the primly kept bedroom.

“Fuck,” John gasps in harsh ragged breathes, his lungs are fit to burst, and his nose feels raw as he inhales, and John is acutely aware of the trickle of blood sliding across his lip.

“Hmm,” Kalvar murmurs, like John is a particularly tricky piece of technology. “Again?” He asks and John doesn’t have a chance to respond before the screams are ripped from his throat

His father’s angry gaze.

The glare of the sun off the metal handle of his mother’s coffin.

Dave’s tear stained face.

 

“Heya, I’m Cam,” the boy thrusts out a callused hand, dirt beneath his fingernails.

“John,” John replies, taking the offered hand and shaking it, tight and firm like his father taught him.

“Nice grip,” Cam remarks with a teasing smirk, and John can feel his face heat.

“You visiting? I’ve never seen you before,” Cam is saying to him.

“Oh, yeah…with my mom’s parents, the McKenna farm,” John tells him, with a curious look.

“Small town…you pretty much know everyone by the time you can talk. Which, just ask my mama was a looong time ago. I basically haven’t shut up since.” Cam gives him another grin and hops up on the fence to sit beside him.

“Right,” John looks down at the hole in the knee of his jeans.

“I can see we have that in common,” Cam teases after a silent minute passes, and he bumps John with his shoulder.

“What? Oh…sorry, I’m just distracted.”

“You alright?” John nods but doesn’t look up.

“Oh…hey wait…the McKennas? Weren’t they out on the west coast a couple months back for a funer—“ Cam’s mouth snaps shut and his eyes go wide.

“My mom.” John says, soft.

“Shoot. M’sorry.”

“It’s okay. Well no, not really. But I mean…”

“Were you close?” John looks up, his eyes flashing, and Cam looks contrite but doesn’t turn away and the anger rising so reflexively simmers and fades away.

“She was my mom,” he says, soft.

“Hey listen,” Cam says a moment of silence later, “there’s this party tonight. There’s a bunch of oppressed teenagers in the area and not much to do besides get high and drunk and so if you’re into that you can totally come if you want to. We don’t get much fresh meat.” And when John looks up Cam actually winks at him. John laughs and Cam smiles wider and elbows him.

“Yeah, maybe.”

“Nice.” Cam hops off the fence and turns back to him, “I’ll swing by here at eight, if you wanna come, just be here, if not…no biggie. I’ll see you later, John,” and Cam is smiling at him, blue eyes catching the light.

“Bye…Cam,” he says, smiling back.

 

“Well, that was different.”

“He seems to have exerted some control over the memory shown.”

“Indeed. But let’s revisit that first one shall we?”

“Hhgn,” John gasps, eyes rolling back.

“The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.”

A pale cloudless sky, green grass moving in the wind.

“Nnnno.”

 

“Whoa.”

“What?” Cam asks, slowing down and looking over at John whose face is pointed up towards the sky.

“I’ve never seen the stars so bright before. It’s…”

“Like the peak of a rollercoaster, looking down right before the plunge. Anticipation and excitement, except—“

“You don’t quite know what you’re waiting for.” Cam is looking at him when John turns back towards him, and he’s glad for the darkness around them because he can feel his face heat again.

“I’m glad you decided to come.”

“Yeah,” he says, out of breath and not sure why.

 

…”and this is Abbie,” Cam says finally, stopping at the last of the small group, a tall, too skinny girl with lots of strawberry blonde hair and lips the color John’s mom once referred to as hooker-chic. He smirks and tries to look friendly.

“We’ve been going together for two years now,” Abbie smiles warmly at him, linking her arm with Cam’s.

“Oh,” John replies, “that’s…” he trails off and Cam turns his face away to hide a smirk that Abbie doesn’t notice.

John’s never been out from under the watchful eye of his father’s hired help or the impressionable presence of his twelve year old brother, it doesn’t take long for John to get properly drunk.

“I can’t feel my face,” John replies, somewhat alarmed by this development.

“That freaked me out the first time too,” a girl whose name John doesn’t recall sits down beside him. She’s short, he notes.

“This isn’t my first time.”

“Of course,” she nods. “I’m Rachel, by the way.”

“I’m John.”

“I know,” and he’s slightly disconcerted when she scoots closer on the straw covered floor and presses herself up against him.

 

“I can’t believe you’re leaving in a week,” Rachel pouts, her hair is pulled into two short pigtails, and they brush annoyingly against John’s face as she settles herself between his open legs and leans back against his chest.

“Yeah, it sucks,” he says a little absently, staring up at the hay bales in front of him, where Cam and Abbie are settling against each other. Cam is clutching a half empty bottle of Jack Daniels by the neck as he lays, spooning Abbie, who has her head tilted back against his collar bone, staring up at the underside of his unshaven jaw.

Cam,” Abbie giggles, scandalized, and John shifts his gaze to where Cam’s fingers are sliding between Abbie’s bare thighs where her short skirt has rucked up. She flushes and moves Cam’s hand to her stomach with another soft giggle. John leans his head forward only slightly to nip playfully at the tip of Rachel’s ear, she grins and tilts her head capturing John’s mouth against her own, his thumbs rubbing up and down her sides; John’s eyes never leaving Cam’s.

 

“We can write, is that lame?” Cam asks, scrunching up his nose and grinning at John.

“Probably, but we can do it anyway.”

“I can give you my number?”

“Okay.” They’re sitting on the rickety post fence where they first met.

“I don’t want to go back.”

“My mom could adopt you,” Cam says, only half joking. “I think she likes you better than me.”

“Who wouldn’t?”

“You’re an ass,” Cam laughs and they fall into a comfortable silence. John is swinging his legs, the heel of his sneakers bouncing off the fence, Cam watches him, stares down at his own bare feet when John’s watch beeps.

“I gotta go,” he says quietly, not moving. Cam nods but doesn’t say anything.

“I wish—“

“Don’t,” John says. They stare out over the empty field to the cluster of trees at the edge of the Mitchell property and John slides an unsteady hand towards Cam’s. They bump a little clumsily and Cam wraps a pinkie around John’s and squeezes like a lifeline, before John pulls away and jumps off the fence.

“Bye Cam,” he says, catching his eye for the briefest of moments one last time before shoving his hands into the pockets of his torn jeans and heading back towards the house and Dave impatient on the other side of the field.

 

John is panting when the room returns, spinning around him, it takes him a moment to realize that he is not actually moving, and his stomach coils threateningly.

“Curious,” is all the scientist says before motioning to one of his technicians, who brings John a glass of water, which she pours into his open and willing mouth. The liquid is cool as it slides down his throat, and finally his stomach settles, the prick of the needle disappears.

“Perhaps a small break?”

John doesn’t give him the satisfaction of an answer.

***

“What do you think they’re going to do to him?” McKay asks, concerned, pacing back and forth in the small cell.

“Stop,” Cam says, without conviction.

“I can’t,” McKay replies, continuing across the cold stone floor.

“They’re probably having tea and chatting pleasantly about the weather,” Cam snaps, thrusting out an arm to stop the scientist. “What the hell do you think they’re doing?” He hisses, clenching the bars of their prison tightly.

“Colonel Mitchell,” Teyla starts, “there was nothing you could do.” Cam looks at her and his expression softens, her brown eyes are wide, and there’s a cut above her eyebrow. Cam touches the pad of his thumb to it gently and nods.

“Yeah.”

***

“Do you have any idea how humiliating this is?” His father’s voice is low, as though afraid to be heard by the large empty house around them.

“Dad,” John starts, not quite meeting his father’s gaze, staring at a spot of lint on his suit jacket.

“No. What possible explanation, what excuse have you come up with to explain why you were…at that place,” he spits the word like it tastes foul in his mouth.

“I was just there with friends Dad I’m not—“

“I’ve had enough of your lies, son.”

“What does it matter?” John asks, snapping his head up and staring angrily at his livid father.

“What does it matter?” His father hisses, and laughs. “I have a reputation to uphold John, I can’t have a son, running around with…with that kind of…”

“With that kind of what?”

“Filth.” His father snaps.

“It was a club dad, we don’t hold annual human sacrifices, we party. I’m seventeen, what the hell do you expect?”

“Youthful indiscretion I can deal with John, but not what those perverts—“

“God Dad, if I had…knocked some chick up, that, you could deal with but not the fact that I—“ John stops and shakes his head with a sad smile.

“That you what?” His father asks, standing up straighter and crossing his arms over his chest, as though daring John to say it.

“suck cock.”

“Just get out. Now, go to your room I can’t even look at you.” John turns and walks to the door of his father’s office. He pauses in the doorway, and turns, looking at the door jam, his father moving out of the corner of his eye.

“Mom knew, you know,” he looks down at the polished hardwood floors. “Before I did really. She just…knew.”

 

The room flashes for a moment, too harsh lights glaring above his head, the sound of movement all around him, muffled and far away. Then images flicker in his head and onto the screen in front of him, places he doesn’t quite recall, the specs of a device he has only vague recollections of seeing.

“Yes, yes!” Kalvar yells excitedly. “We thank you greatly Colonel.”

John squeezes his eyes shut and the pain is searing but he pushes the thoughts away and he can hear the disappointed shouts around him as

The dining hall is large and unusually quiet, the Saturday mid-afternoon rush of hungry students clearing out as John pours himself a cup of coffee and turns to find a table in the sunlight.

 “Sheppard?” John’s eyes widen in surprise as he takes in the appearance of the man in front of him. He’s taller, John thinks, and the freckles around his nose are gone, his hair is shorter but his eyes are the same, still bright and blue.

“Cam, w-what are you doing here? Do you go here?” John asks, stunned, the cup in his hand burning the skin of his palm.

“Uh…no,” Cam says with a huff of laughter, “you kiddin? You think I’m smart enough for Stanford?”

“Yes.” John says with such conviction that Cam flushes and shoves his hands into his pockets.

“I’m just visiting a friend, I go to UCLA,” Cam explains.

“Didn’t you want to join the Air Force?” John questions, as though suspicious.

“I still do, I still am. What about you? Didn’t you say you were going to Harvard?” Cam questions and he motions to a table in the small corner of the café and John sits down with a nod,

“Yeah, I did but I uh…my dad and I we…well I found my motivation for saying no to the big ‘Sheppard family legacy’.”

“That’s great.”

“Yeah, it is.” The silence that follows isn’t quite as comfortable as it once was, tension creeping into the spaces between them.

 “So, do you come here often?” John asks, sincere and Cam makes a choked sort of noise and John realizes what he’s said and he laughs and looks down at his cup. “I meant…do you visit with…frequency.”

“Yeah, I’m actually up here quite a lot,” Cam laughs.

“Oh,” John says and he realizes as Cam does that he sounds disappointed. Cam gives him a questioning look.

“She’s just a friend.”

John doesn’t say anything, but he takes a sip of coffee to hide his grin.

 

John is sitting on a small twin sized bed; his dorm room freshman year, staring at the setting sun outside his window, trying to ignore the way the mattress dips beside him as Cam moves out of the corner of his eye, scooting closer until their thighs are barely inches apart. The sound of the door clicking closed behind his roommate is still echoing in his head when he turns toward Cam whose looking at him carefully.

 Cam leans forward slowly and a smirk tugs at the corner of his mouth as he says,

“So,” elongating the syllable, “I’m gonna kiss you now,” soft.

John nods, “cool.”

John doesn’t move as Cam breaches the space between them and presses his lips chaste against John’s. Then he’s moving, leaning over and bracing one hand on John’s other side and cupping his face and neck, pressing himself closer. John leans back and pulls Cam with him, until they’re sprawled across his bed with Cam half on top of him, his hands on John’s thighs, hips, chest, threading through his hair and back around.

They don’t stop, their breath hot and heavy between their lips as they pull back for air, noisy and panting, and John discovers as Cam’s teeth nip at the skin of his neck, just below his ear, as he whimpers into the silent empty room, the world has gone dark around them.

 

“Again?” Cam sighs, “we’ve seen this movie forty-seven times!”

“It’s a classic,” John argues.

“You’re a classic,” Cam says with a wrinkle of his nose. John laughs and leans down to kiss him, shoves a piece of popcorn in his mouth instead and pulls back with a grin.

 

Cam’s eyes are blood shot, his pupils blown as John looks down at him from where he’s moving in his lap, in the front seat of Cam’s 74 Pinto.

John,” Cam hisses, as John wraps a hand around the both of them, leaning forward and sucking on the skin of Cam’s neck, biting at his collar bone. Cam’s arms come up around him, scratching down his back, and over the bare skin of his ass as they both come.

 

“Can I tell you something, with the promise that you won’t laugh?” John asks, staring down at the buttered roll on his plate. He looks up at Cam who is already smiling; he nods, trying to make his face neutral.

“This is…” John tries, looking around at the other patrons in the small Italian restaurant, bad music spilling from the speakers built into the ceilings above them. “This is my first real…”

Cam’s eyes widen, his eye brows shooting up expectantly.

“It’s my first real date,” John sighs in a rush. Cam smiles, but true to his word he doesn’t laugh, just gets a dopey expression on his face like he’s going to ask John to share a single piece of spaghetti.

“I’m a little surprised,” Cam says finally, not meeting John’s eyes. “But, if it’s any consolation, for me… this is…the first that’s really mattered.”

 

“Do we really have to be deployed?” John sighs unhappily, sitting naked atop Cam’s bare thighs.

“They do seem to encourage it,” Cam smiles, closing his eyes as John’s fingers find his erection.

“Yeah but, that means…” he trails off and Cam opens his eyes and sits up, the muscles beneath John flexing as Cam reaches him, kissing him soft and open.

“I know. I’ve been avoiding thinking about what’s going to happen to us…” Cam looks away.

“What…what is us?” John asks, and Cam looks up at him quickly and shakes his head.

“We’ve…you know I don’t...want to—“ Cam sighs and trails off.

“I know, labels, but Cam…” John turns Cam’s face toward him gently and kisses him. “Whatever we are, I don’t want it to not be anymore, I just…” John flushes and turns away, his hand dropping down to his side.

“We will.”

“Good.” John nods, a little relieved.

“Now c’mon, touch me inappropriately while it’s still mostly legal,” Cam commands, lying back down. John looks thoughtfully down at him for a moment and shakes his head.

“What?” Cam says, surprised.

“No I mean…I want you to fuck me,” John says and flushes, Cam’s face splits into a grin.

“John Sheppard, for a rebel you really are quite the oppressed prude.”

“I am not.”

“Then say it again,” he laughs, “talk dirty to me.”

“Mud,” John deadpans. “Dust bunnies. Belly button lint.” Cam catches him on the side with a hand and John twitches, laughing, before Cam is pushing him back against the bed and crawling over him.

“Are you sure?” Cam asks, serious, pushing the fringe out of John’s eyes. “I mean we’ve never…”

“Fuck me, Cameron Mitchell.”


John doesn’t have the energy to feel embarrassed by the free show playing in wide screen in front of a room full of his captors. He coughs and arches his back away from the chair; his whole body feeling like it’s been crumpled into a pretzel and flattened out again. There’s an unpleasant ringing in his ears he’s sure is not good as one of the Satraxans stares at him with a look of mild revulsion. He smirks.

“That was…unexpected, and although not quite what we are looking for it may prove useful.” John’s not sure he likes the sound of that, but there’s not much he can do about it, he lets his eyes slip closed and waits.

“Fuck,” he draws out the ‘k’ in a long hiss that ends in a strangled scream.

“I lo--“ Cam starts, his voice high and angry before his eyes widen a fraction and he stops, “I want to be with you,” he says instead, but he’s shaking his head.

“You think I don’t?” John asks, his arms are draped over his naked lap, his dog tags dangling against his chest.

“No, I know you do,” Cam sighs, pacing back and forth across the small hotel room in nothing but worn briefs.

“Then what? What do you want from me?” John asks.

“I-“ but Cam stops and shakes his head. “I’m sorry, I’m not mad at you, you know that, I’m just…frustrated.” He stops in front of the bed beside John and drops down to sit next to him.

“I can help,” John says, voice low, moving his hand to slip beneath the waistband of Cam’s briefs, but Cam grabs his wrist to stop him.

“Don’t.”

“Fine, I just figured considering we only have one day you’d actually want to touch me some time,” John snaps, standing up and looking for his boxers.

“John, don’t be like that,” Cam sighs, standing, crossing the room to where John’s pulling on a pair of jeans, commando. He tugs on John’s arm until John’s letting go of his jeans and standing straight, and Cam is roving his eyes across his naked skin before stepping closer and burying his face against John’s neck and holding him close.

“I always want to touch you John, in every possible way, but it just…hurts so much more like this because I know eventually I’m gonna have to let go. And I just…don’t want to anymore.” Cam is shaking his head and John is pulling him closer with dawning realization that Cam is weeping softly against his shoulder.

“Stop being a woman,” John says, because he doesn’t quite know what to do. Cam huffs a wet laugh, and tickles at his side.

“So…what do you want to do?” John asks, pulling back as Cam straightens up. “It’s always been like this Cam, even through college, monthly visits at best when school allowed it and—“

“And now, we have no idea the next time we’re going to see each other,” Cam finishes, turning away.

“What do we do?” John asks. “We’ve never even…talked about what this is,” John says, motioning between them.

“Yeah. Maybe it shouldn’t be anything.” Cam says to the wall opposite them.

“What? You don’t…” John shakes his head, bends back down and pulls up his jeans.

“I…” Cam starts, turning finally to look at John, but he stops.

“We’ve never really made this official; I guess it never really was to begin with. So we what? Hook up when we can and…?” John trails off.

“I don’t know.”

“Well give me something here Cameron what the hell do you want?”

“I want to be with someone more tangible than a good memory.”

 

She arches her back with a soft noise of pleasure, the movement an obvious, silent hint for John and he takes it, cupping her breast and leaning down to kiss the flushed skin of her stomach as he goes lower. Pale thighs spread open on rumpled bed sheets.

“Bedside,” she whispers, panting softly, “condoms.” John’s fingers stutter to a halt and she whimpers at the loss. He pulls back, his mouth agape and eyes wide.

“Don’t stop,” she says, not sensing the tension wracking John’s body.

“I…I’m sorry,” he says, and finally she opens her eyes and moves to sit up. He stands, looking around the room like a caged animal and moves to find his discarded clothing.

“I’m really sorry, I uh…you’re really…I mean really, it’s just that…” John stutters, embarrassed.

“What?” She asks, pulling her covers over herself awkwardly.

“I just realized why I don’t do this.”

“Don’t do what?” She asks, a little irritated.

“Other people. I’m sorry, you’re really…”

 

“God!” John shouts, “I’m getting sick of the reruns,” he says through gritted teeth.

“This would be much quicker and a lot less painful if you would simply show us what we want to know.”

“Sorry, I just really like being a pain in the ass.”

“Yes well…it would seem not,” Kavlar says pointedly.

“Did you just make a gay sex joke?” John asks in disbelief, and he turns his attention back to the screen in time for a flash of a dark musty cave like room, an inactive console set in the middle. He wills the images away with a, “no,” grinding his teeth.

 

Cam’s fingers are thread between his own; the light of the fire cackling behind the shaman throws the small party’s shadows into stark relief, dancing on the clay walls around them.

They stand, giddy, twitching in the semi-darkness adorned in nothing but ceremonial shawls, a heavy animal skin loin cloth and combat boots, their dog tags glinting in the firelight.

“Uku’te teka nis aw äne no lek é hewei?”

Holland presses the small talisman into John’s palm, and Samantha does the same to Cam, and then he’s stringing the heavy hemp cord around it while Cam mirrors the motion beside him.

“Ni’ka uhma’ta lo ne Cameron.”

“Wow, yours is…I mean mine looks like a developmentally challenged seven year old made it…” John says as Cam lifts his wrist and ties the bracelet around him.

“noh’te ni’ka lo ne John.”

“Ha!” Cam smiles, “It’s…it’s perfect,” he nods.

“Ze’te ne lao ni.”

Cam and John face each other, their hands clamped together tightly, pressed to their chests as they embrace, pulling back and tipping their heads together as the Shaman offers a prayer. Cam pulls back, Sam giggling beside him, and kisses John hard.

 

The room swims, the dark vault is back, and the panels on the console begin to light in sequence.

“Fuck you,” John snarls.

John straightens his dress blues in the large floor length mirror by his small bedroom window, wondering if it will be the last time he’ll get to wear them.

 

John’s over hearing the news of a young pilot’s crash in Antarctica, and being asked, “didn’t you used to know him?” While his hand instinctively grasps a tight hemp cord.

 

John’s arguing with a disgruntled nurse.

“I’m sorry but only family…”

 

“This grows tiresome Colonel,” the scientist responds, and the needle recedes from the back of his neck. John groans and tries to move his head to no avail.

“Wait,” one of the techs moves towards the screen, and turns.

“The charm the young man in the tribe memory was wearing. I recall seeing it.”

“What?” Kavlar asks, curious. “Where?”

***

“Yeah, and he’s my husband.”

There’s a moment of stunned silence, not even the birds are chirping.

“What?!” Rodney shouts in disbelief, staring at John incredulously. “Whatever they did to you clearly addled your brain!” He says with a nod.

There’s a snapping of a stick on the path in front of them and they turn as a group to a shell shocked Cameron, looking as though he is trying to back away unnoticed.

“Gate’s clear…” he trails off.

“No,” Rodney says, shaking his head, and then his gaze lands on the bracelet on Cam’s wrist and his eyes dart speculatively towards John and the similar one on his own. His eyes widen in surprise, his voice has lost its hard edge of disbelief when he says,

“What?” Softly, his wide mouth falling in something John can’t quite place, but the closest he can come up with is…devastation. He opens his mouth to say something but stops as Rodney pushes past Cam towards the gate.

***

The debriefing is stilted and awkward. John vagues up his account of the events as much as possible, explaining just enough of the relevant details of the machine for Keller and Woolsey’s benefit, who along with Ronon have obviously noticed they’ve missed something, each team member having expertly avoided eye contact for the entire duration of the meeting.

John is forced into scrubs and an infirmary bed for at least the night for observation, which really doesn’t mesh with his desire to be as far away from everyone as possible, but it seems everyone is just as keen in their own awkward avoidance anyway.

That is, until later that evening as the last few nurses disappear and Teyla enters the infirmary cautiously.

“If you do not wish to speak with me I will understand John, but I would like you to know at the very least that you have my love and support, which I am sure, you are much aware.” Teyla nods and moves to back out but John waves her forward and she smiles warmly at him and sits on the edge of his bed.

“I know,” he nods, “it means a lot,” he says, truthfully. She bows her head against his and he grins.

“You and Cameron Mitchell make a good pair, a rather attractive pair as well,” she laughs and he smirks.

“You knew though, right?” John asks.

“I had…my suspicions,” Teyla admits. “But I know of the rules of your military and I did not want to put you in an awkward position.”

“Ronon knows,” John tells her, and she looks up in surprise.

“He asked,” and a grin breaks across her face and they both lapse into soft laughter.

“He has not broken your confidence,” she tells him.

“I know, I knew he wouldn’t,” John says.

“I am curious,” Teyla starts and John looks up, “how you two are wed…if your military…” she trails off.

“Oh,” he smirks and looks down at the bracelet on his wrist.

“I wondered,” Teyla replies, “the guards seemed rather pleased to discover Colonel Mitchell’s own jewelry.”

“Yeah,” John says, remembering the look of triumph on Kavlar’s face, and the pursuing struggle as John realized what they wanted, how he’d led them right to Cam. They’d managed to escape in the scuffle that ensued, but the sadistic look on Kavlar’s face still makes the skin on the back of John’s neck crawl.

“We were stationed together, this tiny island, the natives there they didn’t have so many qualms about…well about marrying less conventional couples. It was mostly for fun I guess, I mean it’s not legal or anything,”

“From what I have learned of your culture John, such symbolism is more deeply intimate than a simple piece of paper.”

“There was this ritual, it’s for luck and protection, these talismans you make out of clay and precious stones for your partner. It can look like anything, be anything,” John explains.

“I have heard of many similar rituals,” Teyla nods.

“His came out better than mine,” John replies a little sheepishly and he shows her. The talisman is small and round, the insides just slightly concave enough to hold the melted green stone, glittering in the dim light of the infirmary. Raised in its center is the just slightly lopsided silhouette of a soaring eagle.

“It’s beautiful,” Teyla remarks, sincerely. “And what does yours for Cam look like?” She asks, smiling at him.

“Uhm…” John replies, “you know I’m rather tired,” he nods, collapsing back against the bed, and Teyla laughs, kisses him gently on the forehead and bids him farewell.

***

When John wakes up, Cam is snoring softly in the chair beside him half flopped over the edge of John’s bed, his mouth open. John smiles, and brushes a hand gently across Cam’s unshaven face, the stubble rough while the skin of his cheek is soft in stark contrast.

His hair is getting long, John thinks, threading his fingers through it. There are still faint traces of the freckles across his nose he had when he was a teenager. Cam stirs gently and John goes to withdraw his hand, but doesn’t. Cam is smiling before his eyes open, his own hand reaching up to grip John’s.

“Hey,” he says, sitting up and pulling his chair closer with an unpleasant screech across the stone floors that have John wincing on behalf of Atlantis. Cam’s eyes dart quickly around the room before he presses a quick kiss to John’s still sore lips.

“Ooh, sorry,” he says, when John flinches.

“S’okay,” he replies, pulling Cam back in and kissing him a little harder. “It’s worth it.”

“Mmm,” Cam agrees.

“How long have you been here?” John asks a few moments later as Cam pulls away finally to sit back down.

“Well you fell asleep around midnight, so…about eight last night,” Cam admits. John quirks a brow.

“I was doing a lot of pacing outside.” Cam says. “I figured…you’d want some space.”

John nods.

“John?” Cam asks, and John looks up. “If…if I ask what happened? Would you tell me?” John doesn’t answer for a minute but looks thoughtfully down at his sheets.

“Full disclosure?” John asks.

“Yes.”

“There…there are things I’ve never told you,” John admits, “about…after that fight we had, that night before you left for Bosnia.”

“I know. Me too—“ Cam starts, but Keller enters the infirmary then with a pleased smile to the both of them, and Cam tells John he’ll see him later and ducks out.

***

“Hey,” John’s voice sounds from behind him, and Cam turns with a smile and motions him over. The balcony doors close as John moves to stand beside Cam, overlooking the ocean.

“Clean bill of health?” Cam asks, trying to keep the worry from creeping into his voice, John must detect it anyway because he stands just a little closer and nods, entwining their fingers together and squeezing reassuringly.

“I’m fine. No permanent brain damage,” John jokes.

“We could…” Cam starts but stops. “We could hear,” he tries.

“Hear what?” John asks, an edge of panic in his voice.

“Nothing specific…just…screaming,” Cam doesn’t look at John, but he squeezes his hand a little tighter.

“I’m fine, I promise,” John says, resolute. He pulls Cam over to the bench on the other side of the large balcony, and Cam goes willingly but shakes his head when John starts to sit, and pushes him gently to the ground. Cam sits with his back against the stone bench, John moving between his legs to settle his back against Cam’s chest, so Cam can wrap his arms around him.

“I love you,” Cam tells him, and John lets his eyes slip closed,

“I love you too, Cam.” They sit like that for a moment, the sun beating down against them, Cam with his arms clasped in front of John like a harness.

“Remember when I broke my wrist sophomore year and I was hopped up on all those pain meds, and we were sitting like this watching Battlestar and I thought I was in a viper?” John asks devolving into laughter.

“I remember the sound effects,” Cam says, grinning. John leans quickly to the left,

“ppphhhhrvvewwww, psshu pssshu.” A quick turn to the right. “Ppppveww pshuuu!”

“Are you sure you’re alright?” Cam jokes, pulling John back up right.

“All these things I’ve tried to forget, it was like watching them on DVD, everything was so real,” John tries to explain.

“Yeah, I know.”

“Oh yeah…I almost forgot,” John says, shifting to look up at him.

“Doesn’t even compare though, I mean you…I’ve never seen you look so…defeated.”

“It was like a life time of therapy sessions crammed into one action packed torture chamber.”

“You…you wanted to tell me something,” Cam says, “do you still want to?” He doesn’t mean to be pushy, he knows John enough to know that’s the fastest way to get him to shut down, if only out of some stubborn desire to do the complete opposite of what others want him to do. John doesn’t say anything for a long moment.

“I do, I still want to…”

“You know whatever you have to say happened over a decade ago and I will therefore not be holding any of it over you?” Cam asks just to clarify.

“I know, I always knew that…that’s why I did it in the first place, but it’s also why I couldn’t do it.”

“Do what?” Cam asks.

“Be with someone other than you.” John doesn’t turn around to face Cam, like Cam might have done, he just stares out over the spires of Atlantis and goes lax in Cam’s arms.

“A few months after that fight, when we decided to just…have an…open relationship? I don’t know, whatever we didn’t call it. I met this girl,” John explains and then he huffs out a laugh, “at the grocery store.”

“You picked up a girl at a grocery store?” Cam asks, laughing.

“We went on a couple of dates, nothing serious, mostly hanging out. I uh…I liked her. I mean, she was cool, and she was there,” John pauses and Cam nods, doesn’t know if John can feel it.

“But a couple of weeks after we started dating, she invited me over after dinner and we…”

“You slept together,” Cam finishes.

“No. Almost, but I couldn’t…it just…it felt…wrong.”

“It could have been the vagina,” Cam suggests. John elbows what he can reach and sighs.

“It wasn’t the vagina, I’m…well I’m partial to external plumbing but I like a challenge every once in awhile.”

“That was the least romantic way I have ever heard that described,” Cam says, a little impressed.

“That’s not really the point of my story Mitchell. I’m trying to tell you how I think you’re my soul mate and you’re all—“

“Soul mate?” Cam teases.

“If I believed in that, which for the record I don’t. But there are a lot of coincidences about us Mitchell, and…I never wanted to be with anyone else, before or after that fight. And I knew you wouldn’t have ever begrudged me finding someone else if it meant being happy, but I figured out that I just…I can have other people, I can be…I don’t know…happy…content? With someone else…I just…I don’t want anyone else.”

“That was a much improved sentiment,” Cam says, flushing hot all over.

“Don’t hold it against me,” John says.

“Promise.”

“You had something you wanted to tell me…didn’t you?” John asks, after a moment of silence.

“Oh. Yeah,” Cam says, but he doesn’t say anything, feeling slightly anxious.

“I’m not going to be mad if you tell me you came to no such revelation,” John says.

“I did, I just…it happened differently.”

“Oh?”

“I slept with this guy a couple of times, on leave. It started out as a one night stand…but he…reminded me of you I guess. Back in...back in freshmen year when you were all shy and virginal.”

“I was not virginal,” John protests.

“We didn’t have sex for four years.”

“I’m not that kind of boy.”

“Contrary to popular belief,” Cam points out.

“Hey, I’m an excellent…flirter…I just…don’t always follow through,” John says with a pout, “might have something to do with having been mostly in love with you since I was fifteen. And for the record I did sleep with Rachel that summer.” Cam laughs.

“It wasn’t the sex so much that made me realize, you know, that I really wanted it to be you it was…afterwards. There was no…bickering. We didn’t argue, I tried, and he’d just…agree with me, and he always wanted to be the little spoon,” Cam says with distaste.

“Yeah—“

“Oh!” Cam says, like he’s suddenly remembering something. “He hated macaroons.” He thinks John might have choked a bit on his own spit as he gags, gasping for air, and Cam just buries his face in the crook of his neck and laughs.

John slides a hand down to grasp at Cam’s wrist, pushes up the sleeve of his shirt to see the bracelet there. “Teyla wanted to see it…it was one of the things I remembered…”

“I love it John, my developmentally challenged seven-year-old,” Cam teases.

“Are we just really compatible or boring?” John asks, moving the small, more than slightly lopsided clay eagle, the blue gems imbedded within it sparkling in the sunlight.

“Do you remember when you first really...realized we were married? I mean, not after the sort of wedding, but felt it?” John asks.

“I’m not sure, do you?” Cam asks. John doesn’t say anything for a long moment before he finally nods, and lets his fingers drop away from the bracelet.

“It was after we got kicked out of Atlantis, and we were living together again for the first time in forever…

John splashes warm water onto his face and pats himself dry with the worn green towel beside the sink. He watches absently in the mirror as Cam steps from the shower, toweling off his dripping hair.

“D’you lock the door?” Cam asks, rubbing behind his ear. John looks at the ceiling and shrugs.

“I don’t remember, I’ll go check,” he replies, dropping the towel and heading towards the door. Cam’s back is turned away from him when John pauses in the doorway and spins back to face the bathroom. He moves silent and barefoot across the cold floor to slip his arms around Cam, nipping playfully at the tip of his ear and wrapping a hand possessively around him, Cam’s cock growing in his hand.

“Be right back,” John grins, pulling back, leaving Cam whimpering and hard behind him.

When John gets back to the bedroom Cam’s already under the covers, his bedside light off. John climbs in behind him, settling the covers around him, twitching with a chill and burrowing in close. Cam smells like soap, his hair damp and soft. He pretends to snore as John’s hand run slowly up and down his naked skin.

John leans forward in the dark, kissing Cam’s shoulder.

“I’m going grocery shopping tomorrow,” John says, pulling back. “You need anything?”  Cam hums appreciatively as John strokes his fingertips up and down Cam’s back.

“You remembered to add half and half to the list?”

“Yeah.”

“Oh and that French whatsit coffee that I-“

“Yup.”

“Cool,” Cam sighs, shifting to roll over, pulling John on top of him and kissing him.

 

“Ah,” Cam sighs, “domestic bliss. I think for me, it was when I came home and you were folding my underwear while talking to my mother about recipes for chocolate chip and walnut cookies.”

“Can I ask you something?” Cam says, a moment later.

“Sure?”

“Are you and…I mean have you and…is McKay?” Cam tries.

“What? No. A thousand different times no.”

“Because he just looked…”

“Yeah,” John sighs.

“Have you talked to him yet?” Cam asks, softly.

“No…I don’t know what to say.”

***

John paces back and forth outside the laboratory door, personnel walking by are either too busy making scientific breakthroughs to notice him, or odd behavior has just become so par for the course at this point.

When John enters the lab finally, McKay looks up quickly before glancing away and choosing to ignore his presence. Several lab techs notice the exchange and flee from the room.

“Do you…have a minute to talk?” John asks, cautiously.

“No,” McKay says, resolute.

“Please? I mean you looked like I kicked your puppy,” John starts, curious.

“You did!” Rodney shouts, crossing his arms over his chest. “Well metaphorically, and well not you but Mitchell kicked my puppy!” Rodney says, looking to the left of John’s shoulder.

“Wait…am I the puppy in this scenario?” John asks, scratching at the back of his head.

“No.” Rodney declares shaking his head before his face scrunches up, “maybe?”

“Rodney,” John sighs, moving closer, but Rodney steps back defiantly.

“Why?”

“I…” John starts, not sure what why Rodney is referring to. “I didn’t tell anyone,” he explains.

“No…I mean I get that, I guess,” Rodney says. “Not really actually come to think of it because even though he’s your…I thought…I mean I wouldn’t…you did know that I wouldn’t go gallivanting off to General O’Neill about your propensity to engage in illicit gay sex, with that..that…person?” Rodney asks, angrily.

“I know that Rodney. I’ve just had so much practice keeping everyone away from us, it’s second nature. I’m sorry. You know I’m not that good with…sharing things.”

“Yeah, well neither am I,” Rodney says, his eyes flashing. John straightens and looks at him curiously.

“Are you…jealous?” John asks, incredulous.

“What?” Rodney sputters, “N-no,” but it’s without real conviction.

“Rodney you’re straight. Rodney you’re engaged,” he says.

“I know that! I’m not…I mean you’re pretty or whatever Sheppard but, don’t flatter yourself you’re not my type.”

“Then what?” John asks, laughing.

“Jennifer is…my best friend. I love her and I want to spend my life with her,” Rodney starts.

“That’s good…” John says, confused.

“Yes. But…you and she…I mean you’re my best friend John. You two are in completely separate categories and and…because she’s a girl. Don’t get me wrong it’s probably my favorite thing about her, but she’s not…she’s not a guy,” Rodney sighs, and collapses in a stool by his lab bench.

“Rodney,” John starts, finally getting it. He sits down next to him.

“How am I supposed to compete with that?” Rodney asks, shaking his head.

“You can’t.” John tells him, truthfully, and Rodney looks up stunned and appalled. John smirks,

“You can’t because there isn’t a competition Rodney. Keller and I may be in two different categories based on nothing but you’re desire to have sex with one and not the other, but let me assure you…the same holds true for you and Cam.”

“What the hell is that supposed to mean? You just…are threatened by men in power.”

“Trust me…not so much,” John says a little wistful.

“Ew. A thousand times ew.” Rodney says and John laughs and pulls him into a one armed hug.

“I love Cam. I’ve been with him for nearly 25 years, but.” John sighs. “Do you spend all your time with Jennifer?” John asks.

“No,” Rodney says confused.

“And who do you spend nearly all of your time with?”

“Uh…you?”

“Exactly.”

“Okay I get it. You…you need me, I am indispensible in your life.”

“Truly, McKay,” John mocks. 

***

The next time John and Cam get married, it’s in a small country club in northern Massachusetts. Rodney is John’s best man, despite his misgivings about the whole situation (“are you sure you want to go through with this? I mean Ronon is quite attractive”), and Samantha reprises her role as (“if you call me Best Maiden one more time I will de-molecularize you) Maid of Honor.

General O’Neill offers his deepest surprise by the turn of events and gifts half the pot money the SGC personnel had going to the grooms.

Teal’c is surprisingly teary-eyed as he walks a beaming Teyla down the aisle.

Vala pesters the happy couple for video evidence of their supposed trysts before Daniel drags her away blushing furiously when she offers a trade.

Lorne gets a little tipsy at the open bar and lets slip in a slurred hushed whisper a fantasy involving Sheppard, Mitchell, he and a puddle jumper, which John jokingly leans over to tell Cam to file away for later, and finds that Cam is nodding his agreement. 

And Ronon doesn’t have to threaten to shoot anyone, even once.