John’s been with the SGC long enough now that ‘strange and unexpected’ are pretty much par for the course. But the jet of golden light shooting out from the middle of a pale green gem imbedded in smooth gray stone still surprises him.
The ray looks almost solid, like an Asgard weapon beam only more...ethereal. It moves like the tendrils of an ascended being, John marvels, as it slowly weaves its way through the air towards him. He drops the stone back into the cardboard box with the rest of the un-catalogued Ancient tech SG-11 found on P3X-452.
Cam is staring up at the light apprehensively, a large fist closing in John’s t-shirt like John needs to be convinced to step back away from the—whatever it is.
“Jackson…what do we do?” Cam whispers, like if his voice is too loud it will spook the light. Daniel stutters on the other side of the office.
“How the hell should I know?” John cocks his head like a curious puppy. The light stops suddenly, poised in front of John’s chest and John thinks for a minute that it’s just going to remain frozen there.
Instead it shoots forward, lightening quick and John barely has the time to gasp, a sharp inhalation of breath as the light pierces through his chest. He clutches at his t-shirt, and collapses to the ground, turning in time to see the light shoot through Cam’s back, out the front and bursting into a thousand tiny particles, skittering across the floor, walls, and ceiling like embers from a cackling campfire.
“Jackson!” Cam gasps, collapsing onto his knees beside John, clutching at his own chest. John’s breathing heavily, a shiver ratcheting up his spine. He feels a little like the time he jumped into the Atlantic Ocean midwinter on a dare. It’s a stuttering, paralyzing kind of cold; he thought it would be warm.
“What the…fuck….was that?” Cam shouts, and John manages a huff of laughter at the hesitation in Cam’s voice, the almost whispered curse, like he half expects his ‘granma’ to pop out from behind Jackson’s desk and smack him upside the head.
“I have no idea,” Jackson intones, the ‘probably nothing good,’ left unsaid. Cam pulls himself to his feet, hauling John up beside him. Cam’s hands land heavily on the side of John’s face, checking him over.
“Get off me Mitchell,” John gripes, pushing his team leader away with an upward curl of his lips.
“Are you alright?” Cam asks. John looks down at himself.
“I’m still breathing,” John drawls, “are you alright?”
“Looks like it, thing didn’t splice me in half,” Cam says, checking.
“This is why we can’t take you anywhere,” Daniel reprimands.
“I thought this was Ancient tech,” John says defensively, peering over the edge of the cardboard box with more than a little trepidation.
“It is,” Daniel says his voice thoughtful; he’s staring hard at John when John looks over.
“Well I thought this stuff had to be activated before it could…you know…shoot icy jets of glowy death at people!” John scowls.
“You can speak like every language known and not known to man, can you give me a little more than two syllables here,” John asks. Cam throws a hand up in front of him.
“Hey Major,” he says warningly. John closes his mouth, but Cam too is looking slightly miffed about the whole situation, staring at Daniel expectantly.
“No one with the Ancient gene has touched this,” Daniel says.
“Then what the hell?” John asks.
“Apparently you have the Ancient gene John, congratulations.” Daniel says, looking anything other than congratulatory. Cam is staring at John.
“Hmm?” Cam says. “How? Wasn’t there some kind of mandatory ATA gene testing day or something?”
“Yes,” Daniel says. They both look at John.
“I was busy that day?”
“You know I really think we should move this conversation to a more suitable location, let’s say…oh I don’t know…the infirmary?” Daniel suggests and Cam nods in agreement.
“I hate the infirmary,” John gripes, but he allows Cam to pull him out the door anyway.
“Physically you’re in perfect health.” Doctor Lam says, clipboard in hand, staring down at John and Cam lying in adjacent beds.
“Goo—“ John stops suddenly, “physically?” Doctor Lam quirks a grin.
“Scans show nothing out of the ordinary, blood work came back clean, your DNA hasn’t been manipulated that we can see…” Doctor Lam trails off, peering down at her two patients curiously.
“What is it?” John asks, knowing that look. It’s sympathetic and curious, analytical.
“If Doctor Jackson hadn’t explained what happened I would say this was a routine check-up…except—“she sighs.
“What?” Cam asks. She sets the clipboard down on the tray between the two beds and gently grasps Cam’s right hand and John’s left. They stare at her, both sets of brows drawn together in confusion. John opens his mouth to question when she flips their hands over, palms face up.
“These.” Doctor Lam explains.
“What the—“ John says, sitting up straighter, staring down at the pale skin of his wrist.
“That wasn’t there this morning,” Cam says, staring at his own. Doctor Lam shakes her head.
“That Earth’s point of origin?” John asks, staring at the small symbol tattooed in the center of his wrist.
“Yup,” Daniel remarks stepping up to the side of Cam’s bed.
“What the hell does that mean?” Cam asks, staring at Daniel.
“I don’t know,” Daniel says matter of fact. John stares. “Yet,” Daniel amends.
“Well please do,” Cam says, a little stricken. “Can’t walk around with a matching tattoo…” Cam shoots John a look John supposes he’s supposed to return. Instead he looks away, pulls his hand from Lam’s loose grip and fingers the smooth skin of his wrist.
“Man, this sucks, don’t it?” Cam drawls, shooting John a commiserating look. John shrugs and pulls a clean shirt over his head, balling up the jacket of his uniform. Cam slams his own locker shut and collapses on the bench between them.
“Lived at the SGC for a year after I joined SG-11, pretty much used to being stuck bottom-side,” John explains.
“Yeah, well I meant being stuck Earth-side, until Jackson can figure out whatever the hell this is all about,” Cam says flicking out his wrist and staring down at the symbol branded into his skin.
“Always wanted a tattoo,” John says, sitting on the bench in front of Cameron. “Beats the needles, huh?” he jokes, stroking the dark lines.
Cam just stares at him.
“Well hopefully Dr. Jackson can work his book magic and figure out what happened and how to reverse it.”
“Not convinced it’s just a nifty high-tech body art device?” John asks with a smirk.
“Something tells me no,” Cam remarks.
“Bummer, I was thinking of maybe getting my nipples pierced, it’d be a lot more convenient if—“ Cam groans and punches John in the shoulder.
“Can I get a high-tech Ancient mind scrubber while we’re at it?” Cam says, rubbing his eyes. John grins and claps a hand to Cam’s shoulder. Cam stutters to a stop suddenly, his eyes flicking wide and bright, pupils dilated. He stares at John a little wildly, his gaze flicking to the warm heavy weight of John’s hand still on his shoulder and John pulls away, startled.
“What?” John asks, nervous lilt to his voice as he takes a small barely discernable step backwards.
“N-nothing,” Cam says, clearly shaken before a grin spreads across his face and he shakes his head once and laughs, “got a chill, c’mon let’s go grab some grub.”
John nods but Cam’s back is already turned, John stares at his palm, fingertips tingling like pins and needles, and he swears for a split second the tattoo on his wrist glows and twitches beneath his skin. Trick of the light, John says to himself, ignoring the feeling coiled in the pit of his stomach in favor of following Cam down the corridor towards the mess.
Three days later Daniel bursts through the door of Teal’c’s on-base quarters with papers clutched in his hand and a look of eureka on his face John has come to know and love over the past year on SG-1. John is sprawled at the foot of Teal’c’s bed, a licorice stick in his hand and one hanging from the side of his mouth.
“I’ve got something,” Daniel says, unnecessarily. Cam ‘yeehaws’ and sits up spilling milk duds all over the floor by his feet.
“I am most pleased you have discovered something in your findings Daniel Jackson, but you could not be more ill-timed. The unrecognized hero is about to save the day, unbeknownst to his companions,” Teal’c replies, hitting the pause button on the remote. Daniel shoots John a curious look, John clambers to his feet and shrugs.
“We watched two seasons of Buffy in three days. Teal’c seems to have a thing for rooting for the underdog.”
“The petite blond gets all the glory while the young Xander Harris is kicked to the sidelines. I do not understand why they do not allow him to train. All young Jaffa are trained to do battle—“ Teal’c’s voice fades as John, Cam, and Daniel make their way down the corridor towards Daniel’s office.
“So what’s the deal Jackson, three days of nothing but television and mission reports and nothing has happened,” Cam says, almost disappointed, clapping his hands together.
“Well as we all know the Ancients weren’t really big on instruction manuals, but from the data brought back by SG-11 and records in the Atlantis database I think I’ve figured out what the device actually is and what’s used for but the how I’m still not sure.” Daniel says, dropping the papers on his desk and flipping through a large volume.
Cam makes a rolling motion with his hands in the universal sign of ‘get on with it’ and Daniel clears his throat, looks slightly put upon and starts.
“As far as I can tell the device was used for…” Daniel smirks slightly, John’s definitely more than a little apprehensive about what the Doctor discovered, “couples counseling.” John’s pretty sure that wasn’t on the long and varied list of possibilities, one more horrifying than the next. Cam stares at John and cocks his head to the side, surveying him. He turns back to Daniel and laughs,
“Oh right.” Daniel simply stares up at him. “You’re serious?!”
“Apparently it creates some kind of bond between its two…recipients, that’s meant to ‘establish a forced union between two or more conflicted individuals to reveal lies and untruths so as to overcome any and all deceptions, to the end that deeper tensions may be relieved for the betterment of the relationship, or relationship ended for the betterment of the individuals’,” Daniel quotes with a sigh.
“So it’s…what?” John asks, running a hand through the back of his hair. He looks over at Cam, hoping he isn’t the only one to be left behind from that explanation, Cam is nodding like he understands but the heavy crease in his brow is his all too familiar ‘I’m just pretending I have any idea what the hell you’re talking about, watch me look pensive.’
“Okay, pretending for a moment that I actually understood even half of that, we can’t work out our couple issues,” Cam shouts, voice going a pitch higher, gesturing wildly between him and John. John makes an offended noise beside him,
“Not with an attitude like that we can’t.” Daniel’s mouth twitches.
“We aren’t a couple Daniel,” Cam tries to explain.
“I don’t think this device was meant solely for romantic couples, Mitchell. It says ‘two or more conflicted individuals,’ I think it was probably used for any variety of relationships. Parent-child, sibling, husband-wife, friendship, co-workers…” Daniel trails off.
“So…it bonds people together to reveal deceptions and and and what?” Cam asks.
“This is where my research is lacking. It says it creates a bond but doesn’t, naturally, go into any kind of detail about what that means.”
“Is this like that time you and Vala were bonded by those bracelets, because I gotta tell you that had some pretty disastrous results for the galaxy,” John says, leaning against Daniel’s table.
“That device was Goa’uld, and also meant as a form of punishment. This, as far as I can see, isn’t supposed to cause physical harm to its users. It sounds like it’s meant as an extreme form of therapy.”
“I hate shrinks,” John says, eying the pages of the book warily.
“How are all these deceptions supposed to be revealed exactly? With this?” Cam questions holding up his wrist and showing the tattoo.
“I’m not sure, I think the tattoo is meant to be taken symbolically, maybe some kind of tell that the device is actually working?” Daniel pushes his glasses up and rubs at his eyes. John crosses his arms over his chest and turns away from the other men, staring at a row of masks lining the wall on the opposite side of Daniel’s cluttered office. He licks his lower lip, trying to process what this means.
“All of your secrets, this device is meant to…reveal them?” John asks, not turning around.
“I wouldn’t say all of them, no,” Daniel says, voice careful. “But presumably anything that’s…holding you back in your relationship…I would say…yes.”
“So like if a couple was having problems they pew pew with the light show and it somehow shows Mrs. Ancient her hubby’s been gettin’ a little ascended tail on the side?” Cam asks.
“So how do we stop this?” John asks, turning around, uncurling his arms and clutching at the edge of the table in a white-knuckled grip. He looks a little skittish.
“Haven’t gotten that far yet,” Daniel says, sympathetically.
“Well there’s gotta be a way right? I mean this…they wouldn’t force this on people would they? So maybe there’s some kind of mental component to it.” John closes his eyes and imagines the bond broken, but he’s not sure what that bond is and he’s never really had to try shutting off something with his mind before. He feels slightly ridiculous and opens his eyes. Cam is staring at him with a calculating look.
“What?” John asks, flushing slightly under his gaze.
“We’ll figure this out,” Cam says, calmly, like John is a small child in need of comfort. He turns away again.
“What was that last part you read, about the end?” John asks, craning his neck to look back at Daniel.
“’To the end that deeper tensions may be relieved for the betterment of the relationship, or relationship ended for the betterment of the individuals’”.
“So when this is all over we’ll either be…what BFF or…” Cam looks up at John, his eyes wide and blue, his lips parted slightly on what John is sure is either some kind of sarcastic remark meant to make John feel better or some kind of sincere encouragement which usually only serves to make John feel more like a caged animal. John shakes his head and smirks, self-deprecatingly. He pushes away from the table and moves to leave the overly cramped office.
Cam reaches out an arm and grabs John, tries to turn him around but John doesn’t concede.
“Hey, Major,” Cam says, all authoritative. John slowly turns his head. “We’ll figure this out. We always do.” His voice is the sharp edge of a knife, slow, deliberate, commanding. John nods, he lets himself become aware of Cam’s fingers curled around his bicep, Cam’s own flexed, and John’s eyes flick to the tendons in Cam’s neck, strained, skin flushed and glistening with sweat from the heat of the too small underground room.
John looks up into Cam’s eyes.
“Yes sir.” Cam’s pupils are blown and he snatches his hand away from John like he’s been burned, the surprise and confusion lining his face not quite matching the darkening of his eyes. John’s wrist twinges as he steps out of the room.
“It’s just a routine mission SGs 5 and 6 discovered some ruins not far from the gate and we’re gonna check it out,” Cam explains, straightening his tac vest.
“Are you sure this is a good idea Cam?” Sam asks, concern clear in her voice and the wrinkle of her brow as she stares between Cam and John.
“Yeah, we still have no idea how that bondage device wo-“ Vala starts, twirling the end of one long pigtail.
“Bonding!” Cam ejaculates loudly. “Bonding device,” he corrects, laughing a little maniacally. Sam tries and fails to suppress a small smile.
“Right. Much less interesting,” Vala concedes, winking at John.
“Like I said, routine mission. Besides Jackson said this thing won’t hurt us, so we go, let the good Doctor make brilliant discoveries, we come home, figure out how to fix this and we all live happily ever after. We good?” Cam says, crossing his arms and leaning against the edge of his P-90. Sam’s smile is a little forced, Teal’c simply nods and Vala slings an arm around John’s shoulders and pulls him bouncing toward the gate room, the line of John’s shoulders straight and tensed.
“Right,” Cam says under his breath, following behind his team.
Someone once asked Cam if he was ever sick of being wrong about absolutely everything, and truthfully? He sort of is.
The mission starts off like any other. P37-852 is a quiet uninhabited planet, the stargate erected at the edge of a small cluster of trees, an overgrown path weaving its way through to the ruins of what was probably once a spectacular looking cathedral. The architecture isn’t Ancient.
“Looks almost Gothic,” Jackson had remarked, stroking a hand across the rough stone of a dilapidated wall. And Cam nodded his head like he had any idea how Jackson knew that. Cam suggested the team split up and take a look around. Vala had naturally flounced her way over to Daniel’s side, clutching at his sleeve and grinning, “I choose Daniel’s team!”
Sam and Teal’c were standing just a foot away from Cam, John a few feet away from Daniel. Cam shot John a sympathetic look and mouthed, sorry. John’s shoulders shrugged, and he canted a hip to the side and leaned against the structure. The façade of cool indifference didn’t quite mask the tension still obvious in the square of John’s shoulder and the rigid line of his jaw.
“Keep in radio contact,” Cam had said, motioning for the others to follow him off the path overgrown with vegetation and wild flowers. Birds chirped in the trees, chipmunk like creature with two bushy tails flittered in between bushes and over fallen leaves and branches.
“So Teal’c, Vala tells me you have a thing for the Initiative soldier. I used to watch Buffy with my baby cousin, she always liked Angel. I’m rather partial to Spike myself.” Cam pushed a large branch out of his way, holding it back to let Sam pass. She grinned at him.
“I believe the correct colloquialism is…spoiler alert, Colonel Mitchell. Indeed, I find Angellus rather, boring. I admire Riley’s morality and strong will. I believe he is a good match for the Vampire Slayer.” Cam had laughed then, shaking his head.
“I think you just might have a thing for a man in a unifo—“ and Cam stopped suddenly, the branches of a large thorny bush snapping back to snag at the bottoms of his BDUs.
“Colonel Mitchell, are you unwell?” Teal’c asked, concerned, stopping beside him. Cam breathed out low and deep, bending over to clutch at his thighs.
“Mitchell?” Sam questioned, placing a hand on the back of Cam’s shoulder.
“I’m fine,” Cam assured them, standing up. “Whoo! Just got a bit of vertigo for a minute.” But Sam had still looked concerned and entirely unconvinced. Cam plastered a grin across his face while his heart sped up beneath his chest. His face was growing warm, and warmer, a sweat breaking out across his forehead.
“You do not look fine Colonel Mitchell, perhaps you should sit down.” Cam shook his head, tilted to one side at the rush, deciding that was a really bad idea. His vision went blurry for a moment, Sam grasping his shoulder and the snagging in his vest.
“Something…” Cam’s knees gave out beneath him and he knelt down on the rough forest floor, trying to catch breath he wasn’t aware of losing. “Something’s wrong,” he said, panic and fear clutching at the inside of his stomach.
“What is it?” Sam asked, her voice belying her own growing panic. Cam opened his mouth, trying to find the words to explain. His head swam and his chest ached, like pulling several all nighters and homesickness wrapped up in one disorienting package.
“Not me,” Cam had said, shaking his head slowly. He clutched at his vest, reaching for his radio. “Shep—“
“Colonel Mitchell, it’s Daniel, come in,” Daniel’s voice cackled out from the radio beneath his hand. Sam scrambled for her own,
“Daniel? It’s Sam, Col—“
“You guys need to get back here, something’s wrong with Sheppard.” From his position on the ground Cam could see Sam’s wide eyed surprise.
“What’s wrong with Sheppard?” She asked, moving to help Teal’c pull Cam to his feet.
“I don’t know, he just collapsed.”
“I thought you said this thing couldn’t hurt us!” Cam shouts, less than a foot of space between him and Daniel. Daniel gives him a look that quite clearly says ‘I’m not intimidated by the angry soldier routine’, and Sam places a hand gently on Cam’s shoulder.
“Cam,” she says softly, placating. Cam backs up, breathing heavily.
“I’m sor—” but Daniel already has a hand up, waving his outburst off with a shake of his head.
“Doctor Lam says he’s going to be fine,” Vala reassures Cam, sitting cross-legged at the foot of John’s infirmary bed.
“How can that be fine?” Cam asks, voice tight. He looks down at the major, unconscious and pale.
“He’s just asleep Cam,” Sam reminds him. “He only passed out, has a killer head ache, but he just passed out, the same thing happened to you—“ Sam starts. Cam rounds on her,
“Yeah and what up with that?”
“I think—“ Daniel starts and they all turn towards him. “Obviously the device is supposed to bond you two together.”
“How exactly is this a healthy therapy session?” Cam asks incredulously, twisting his hat nervously in his hands.
“Well the device’s purpose is to force its users to work through their issues,” Daniel says, beginning to pace, his hand stroking his chin and the side of his face.
“Yeah, so?” Cam bites.
“Well, you and Sheppard have been in close proximity over the last three days, barely out of each other’s sight actually,” Daniel thinks out loud.
“Yeah, so?” Cam reiterates.
“Then suddenly we go off world, you two separate and bam Sheppard drops unconscious.”
“And I almost—“
“But that’s not everything. You didn’t,” Daniel says, and he’s smiling.
“We’re not a science project Jackson stop grinning like that.”
“The difference is Sheppard was physically affected by the device and you,” Daniel says, “were affected by Sheppard.”
“What?” Cam asks, staring around at the others, hoping someone would agree Daniel was completely off his rocker.
“Think about it. The same thing happened to Vala and I, except that device was insurance for prisoner transport. Prisoner escapes, he dies and so does the Jaffa responsible for him. Effective means of discipline.”
“Jackson what the hell does this have to do—“ Cam starts but Jackson cuts him off.
“Now obviously the Ancients wanted a device that would force couples to work through issues. What better way to do that than to ensure that neither party could just up and leave. Yes of course you could be in close proximity with one another and simply just not communicate. But after awhile that would certainly get old not to mention extremely inconvenient. I don’t think the device is meant to physically bring harm to someone but but bond its users in a way that would force communication.”
“So if either one of us is separated from the other, we both get sick? To what point? Just before death?”
“Hmm,” Daniel says. “I’m not sure.”
“And what about the fact that I didn’t pass out, is it because of my superior physical prowess?” Cam snarks and there’s a loud snort from behind them. The group turns to find John struggling to pull himself into a sitting position.
“I doubt that very much.”
“Sheppard,” Cam huffs out a laugh of relief and claps a gentle hand against John’s shoulder.
“I think it’s because you weren’t being affected by the device in the same way Sheppard was. You said you could sense that something was wrong with him,” Daniel says and John looks up.
“What?” He asks, confused.
“Yeah,” Cam looks away. “It was like I was…channeling…him. Like I could feel what…”
“What he was feeling.” Daniel finishes and Cam nods.
“What the hell does that mean?” John asks, staring between the two of them.
“I think that means you’ve been given empathic abilities tuned only to major Sheppard.”
“Well that sounds shitty.”