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The Bright And Hollow Sky

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1.

Cam never actually comes out and asks Sam out on a date; there's regs standing in the way, for one thing, but he can tell she isn't interested. He doesn't take it personal.

He wonders if she'd like to settle down someday. Maybe have kids. He can imagine how it'd be for her: a house with a picket fence, but it's gotta be near the Mountain. Maybe Area 51, if she decides to have those kids; that way she could stay planetside. He can't see her giving up the Stargate program, not after all these years putting her heart and soul into it.

And he's part of it, had his choice of any assignment anywhere and chose SG-1, so he knows why she's given it so much. It's just not enough. Cam can see it in her eyes every day. She's tired. She's getting older, and her heart's wearing thin, and there are some things time can't help.

When he finds out about the Atlantis assignment, his throat gets tight. Atlantis may be closer than it used to be, thanks to the McKay-Carter Intergalactic Bridge and the supply runs, but it's still so far out that there's always a chance that the people there will get cut off for good. That's something Sam knows even better than he does, and it makes his chest ache just thinking about it from that angle. She knows how far away it is, how precarious the connection back to Earth is. She knows it all.

"Sam, tell me something. Did you ask for this?"

She doesn't answer; she looks down at her coffee and rotates the cup in her hands, handle on the mug moving from five o'clock to seven o'clock, back and forth, almost hypnotic.

"Did you ask them to send you?"

"Yes, I did."

Cam stays quiet for a while. He raps his knuckles on the table, trying to keep his mouth shut, but finally he can't not ask. "Is he even gonna send you off?" he asks, very quietly.

She just shrugs. Cam sighs; he knows her, and he knows of the General, and he knows she's not gonna ask and he's not gonna offer, because that's just the way things are. Times like this, he wants to know why the fuck O'Neill didn't put in for retirement and move his ass right back to Colorado Springs.

Ego, maybe. Cam doesn't like to think about it, but he's pretty sure his own ego wouldn't let him send his wife off to serve while he stayed at home, even if it meant he got kids and a puppy and a garage where he could tinker at the Mustang to his heart's content.

For Sam, though, Cam might've given it a shot. O'Neill went to Washington. O'Neill's a fucking idiot.

"Are you okay?" Sam asks, reaching out for him.

Cam snaps back to the here-and-now and shakes his head. "Fine," he says. "I'm fine. I was just thinking about--you know." He doesn't look her quite in the eyes; he can't. "Lost causes. Missed opportunities."

"Me, too," Sam tells him. She smiles, but her heart's not in it. "But you know how it is. Sooner or later, you go on and you..." She shrugs. "You move on to other things."

That hurts. But it's true; more than that, it's what her endless crush on Jack O'Neill has been telling him forever. "And Atlantis is what you want to move on to?" Cam raises both eyebrows at her. "Are you sure about that? I mean, hell, you'll have to hang lemons up above your doorway--"

She snickers--the first real sign of amusement he's seen out of her in weeks. "He's not that bad..."

"He's a prick."

"Yeah, but he's every bit as smart as he thinks he is," she says, sounding a little wistful. "You have to respect guys who can pay off their own ego."

Cam snorts, but he's got to admit she's got a point. He's grateful, at the very least, that somebody out there knows her, that she's got at least one familiar face to move toward. And then he wonders just how her life got so desperate that the thought of walking away from everybody and being left with nothing but Meredith Rodney McKay is an upgrade.

It's a kick to the gut, the day she walks out of the SGC, and he has to tell himself over and over that it's not for good, it's not forever, it's just worry over Sam making him crazy. But sometimes he reaches for the phone when he's got good news, and sometimes he thinks about stopping by her house, and the databursts are never the same.


2.

He can feel it slipping away from him, inch by inch. Every day, it's a little harder to get out of bed. Every day it hurts more, and the first day a rolling stormfront comes through, he wants to kill somebody. He'd make a list, but the thought police are coming any day now, so maybe it's better if he doesn't.

It's not the drugs, he tells himself. It's not the fancy expensive doctors. It's me. Willpower, baby. I can do this.

But the steps are getting harder, and he finds himself needing breaks, limping, looking at the stairs--the same stairs he used to take two at a time when he was in a hurry--and wondering if it's worse to just admit he needs the elevator straight off or to get halfway up and have to come back down because he can't go any further.

He takes a dozen falls before he starts using his cane again. His knees and shins are always bruised from the times he's fallen, times he's bumped into things, but he's been telling himself it didn't matter because, hell, he already hurt this much; now it's just written all over his skin where anybody could see it.

Nobody gets to see it. There's nobody he'd let in even if they asked; nobody he wants to have touch him anymore. He doesn't want someone to come in and take care of him--wouldn't accept it from the nurses even if the VA would pay for them, won't accept it from his momma, sure as hell wouldn't accept it from a lover. When he bothers jerking off, it's as fast as he can make it, and he resents that, too. He hates the way he has to rush it, because it's tough to get it up and keep it up long enough to come when his body's a mass of aches and pains from the waist down. Tough enough, sometimes, that he just can't, and it turns into one more thing the crash and the Stargate program and goddamned President Landry took away from him.

Eventually the cane's just another part of his life. He stops fighting it and leaves it next to the bed where he can get at it first thing in the morning. He gets a prescription for Vicodin--the VA at least gives him that much--and he starts knocking them down with a bourbon chaser some nights. He shouldn't, but hell, what's it going to do? Kill him?

All of that, though, it's stuff he can handle. Stuff he hates, stuff that makes him angry, stuff that gives him a hell of a lot of resentment to sit on, but it's better than his daddy had it, so who's he to bitch?

But then the cane's not cutting it anymore, and he's still got his legs--he can't just have himself fitted for prosthetics and get around on forearm crutches. The way his legs feel some days, he's not sure he really wants the goddamned things anymore, but the idea of actually talking to a doctor about amputation seems like cheating (and scares the living fuck out of him, besides). So he lives with the pain and he lives with the limp and he thinks, sometimes, about the phone call that could end all of this. He's still got the number.

He's been housebound for three weeks when his momma shows up with the wheelchair. He grits his teeth and walks around the apartment and tells her there's no need for that contraption, that he'll be fine, but she leaves it behind when she goes home again.

He doesn't pitch it into the dumpster. It gets a little closer to his bed every week, going from the living room to the hallway to the bedroom closet, and then there's the morning when the pressure drops--snow's coming in--and the pain knocks him flat on his back.

"President Landry's office, will you hold please," says the voice. Cam doesn't even get a chance to say sure before the phone clicks and there's crappy classical music blaring in his ear. He grits his teeth, falls on his back and waits. He should have gotten the painkillers first; he should've had them by the bed. Now he can't get up--can't afford to put the phone down that long. And he can't curse out loud; they could pick up any minute.

Any minute.

It takes sixty-seven of them to get through. To Cam's surprise, it's Landry on the other end of the line.

"Mitchell. How are the legs?"

You know damn well how they are, you bastard, Cam thinks, but he forces his voice as even as he can and says, "Not so great, sir. How are you?"

"Oh, fine. Fine. Now, it's been a while since I gave you that number, and I have to admit, I wasn't expecting you to use it."

"No, sir--I mean, I'm sure you weren't, sir," Cam says. Now's when he has to beg for it. He fixes his eyes on the wheelchair and takes a deep breath. "Sir, for the last six months I've been thinking about our last conversation, about the day you gave me this number, and I've--I've had some second thoughts, sir."

"Well, I'm sorry to hear that, son. Can't say as I'm surprised, but it's a little late."

Cam's fingers tighten on the phone. "What I'm trying to say, sir, is that I still believe I could make a contribution to--"

Landry cuts him off. "This country appreciates your sacrifices in the name of duty..."

"Sir, please--"

"But when you bite the hand that feeds you, you can't be surprised when that hand doesn't come back a second time, can you?"

"No, sir," Cam murmurs, "I guess I can't."

The painkillers are out in the living room. It's a long walk on a good day, but somehow rolling there seems to take even longer.


3.

It took Cam a long time to figure out Jackson was in love with him. It took him even longer to be sure about it, and even then he didn't plan on bringing those particular words into the deal they had going; Jackson's always been pretty damn sure he left his heart on Abydos. Cam could argue the point, but he doesn't think it'd be fighting fair, somehow. He's never left anybody behind.

It wears a body thin, though, knowing somebody loves you, knowing they love you better than anybody in your life ever has, and knowing they'll never admit it to themselves. Cam doesn't get angry about it at first--not much point--but sometimes it makes him so goddamned tired. It's like Jackson decided I only get to feel this way once, and then Sha're was taken, died, and that was that.

He tells Jackson Stop measuring me. He growls it or whispers it once or twice when he just can't help himself. It's vague on purpose, because sometimes Cam's a fucking coward, and he can't bear to leave his heart out in the open by saying the words first. Saying them alone. Cam knows you're not supposed to say I love you just to hear the words reflected back at you, but damn if sometimes he isn't tempted to give it a shot, say it when Jackson's so worn out from fucking that the words might just get out from under him before he can think them back into his head.

He finally tries it. It's a sunny day in April; it's been a good week--hell, a good month--and he lets it slip out after Jackson's pinned him down and fucked the breath out of him.

It doesn't work. Jackson curls up against Cam's back, holds him tight, but he doesn't say a fucking word. Cam starts wondering if he's ever even said the phrase I love you in English, if he knows it in any goddamned language but Abydonian.

Cam's not packed, didn't have this planned, but he wakes up one morning and can't stand it anymore. He rolls away when Jackson tries to kiss him, showers, shaves, and starts throwing clothes into his military-issue duffel.

Jackson grins at him at first. "Are we going somewhere?"

"I been wondering that for years," Cam snaps at him. "Finally figured out the answer's no; where the hell have you been?"

The look on Jackson's face just about tears Cam's heart out. Jackson looks winded, like he'd never have seen this coming no matter how long Cam held out, and he doesn't have a single thing to say. He lets Cam get to the back door with his duffel, follows Cam like a shadow as Cam heads toward the garage and punches the combination in. The garage door slides up, and Cam's in enough of a hurry to duck down under it instead of waiting for it to open all the way. He pops the trunk on the Mustang, but Jackson slams it back down.

"Don't go."

"Fuck you."

Part of him's not surprised when Jackson grabs him, kisses him. Jackson's fluent in a million different languages, but the only one he really speaks with Cam is silent: hands, teeth, tongue, body. Cam doesn't know if Jackson's taking the risk into account with all this--the driveway's open to the street, and if you were nosy about it, you could squint past the overgrown bushes and make out the outline of those so-called "roommates" wrestling with each other, one of them dressed, one of them in nothing more than a pair of sweatpants he grabbed off the bedroom floor on the way out.

Cam tenses up, and Jackson can read it on him. Jackson pulls away just long enough to slam his hand down on the "close" button and get the garage door sliding down, and then he's back, spinning Cam around and shoving him down over the Mustang's trunk.

It's dark now, almost claustrophobic. Not too hot, not this early in the morning, but it smells like engine grease and leather, and Jackson's pulling at his clothes, getting his jeans down over his hips. Jackson's not gentle and he's not subtle, just uses a mouthful of spit to get Cam slicked up. It's not anywhere near enough, but Cam can feel the shaking desperation in Jackson's body as he drives in. He can take it.

Jackson has his fingers laced into Cam's by the time he's finished. He's holding on hard, half-collapsed against Cam's back, and his breath's coming hitched and fast. His thighs are tight against Cam's, and the Mustang's trunk, it turns out, is not the world's most comfortable thing to be fucked over, but right now Cam would have to fight to get away.

He doesn't.

When Jackson finally lets him up, Cam pulls his jeans back on while Jackson tugs up his sweatpants. Cam doesn't argue when Jackson picks up his duffel, and once they've got the garage door open again, Jackson starts back for the house, looking back over his shoulder to make sure Cam's still with him.

Jackson's not the only one who knows how to bottle up words inside until it kills you not to say them. Cam pockets the keys to the Mustang and follows Jackson back inside.


4.

Cam gets the assignment and takes it without thinking twice. That son of a bitch Ba'al's on Earth--been on Earth for more than six months--and they need all the intel they can get. Cam has clearance, he knows how important it is, and he's got the perfect cover story. Aircraft accident (true), purple heart (true), honorable discharge (not, though he could've taken it if he hadn't made a full recovery), and now he's looking for work. And hey, how about that: Ba'al's looking for a private pilot, the kind of guy who knows how to keep his mouth shut and follow orders. Cam gets the job.

The minute Cam meets Ba'al, he realizes what's going on. Ba'al didn't hire him off the resumé or the qualifications. He hired him for the same damn reason he hired that so-called "personal assistant" of his, Charlotte: best-looking person who could actually do the job. Cam's been cruised enough times to know what it looks like when someone's sizing you up and deciding how to fuck you; Ba'al's got that look on his face every time he takes a flight.

O'Neill had plenty to say about Ba'al during all the briefings; what he didn't cough up--maybe doesn't even realize--is that Ba'al's attractive. It would've been nice to know that ahead of time. It would've been nice to know that, when he's not talking through the worm, Ba'al has a voice that's smooth, elegant, and laced with some kind of exotic foreign accent. He's posing as South African, but Cam knows damn well that voice is thousands of years old and has whole planets of history behind it.

Cam can't help who his dick gets interested in. What with the accident and the months of physical therapy, he's sorta relieved that it's getting interested in anybody at all. The way Ba'al looks at him makes him wish he'd gotten to take it for a test run before he took this job; he's got a feeling Ba'al's not going to like it if he puts his hands on Cam and nothing happens.

But that's not an issue, it turns out. The day he finally touches Cam--and it's not even both his damn hands, it's just one fingertip, and it strokes down the center of Cam's chin and that's enough--everything lights up, all systems go. Cam hasn't been this easy for anybody since high school, but Ba'al looks at him with those ageless eyes and it sends chills down Cam's spine.

The first time Ba'al actually does more than tease, it's in a hotel room in Singapore. Ba'al spreads Cam out on the biggest, softest bed Cam's ever lain on, and he's got this warm, musky oil next to the bed, and he strokes every last goddamned inch of Cam's body until Cam's helpless and begging.

He leaves that out of his reports, and he promises himself he's not going to beg like that again.

And he's right; he never begs quite that way again. He learns to beg a hundred different ways for Ba'al--beg while he's being touched, beg while he's getting fucked. Ba'al eats it up with a spoon, just like Cam knew he would. That's right, Mitchell: tell yourself it's all for the op.

If it were just sex, that'd be one thing. Cam's had great sex before. With Ba'al, it's more than that--it's being touched and being used and slowly, day by day, learning that every touch is Ba'al's way of stamping ownership all over him.

He tries to fight that, once, tries to keep himself separate from the body Ba'al's fucking. And then Ba'al laughs and drives in deeper and licks up the side of Cam's neck, and Cam shudders and comes like a freight train. Ba'al holds onto Cam until the helpless feeling goes away, but later, Cam thinks about how long he held onto Ba'al, how long he let Ba'al hold him, and it scares the shit out of him.

"Sir, you need to get me out," he tells O'Neill. "I can't--I can't do this anymore, I'm not gonna--"

"Is he hurting you?" O'Neill asks. It's what he's asked every time, and he's asked it flat-out, like Cam might not answer if he couldn't say a simple yes or no.

Cam closes his eyes. "No, sir."

"Are you close?"

Close to finding out what the hell Ba'al's big secret project is? Close to totally fucking losing it and blowing my cover? Close to just letting Ba'al have anything he damn well wants just because he's asked? Close to what, sir?

There's a noise at the door, and Cam hangs up. It's just Charlotte, though, and she raises an eyebrow. "He's asking for you. What are you doing in here, anyway?"

It's my room, he thinks, which is marginally true. He's always got his own bedroom in Ba'al's suite, any time they travel; he just hasn't needed it in weeks.

"Just needed a little space. 'Scuse me."

Ba'al starts with his hands and that oil of his again, touching Cam everywhere until Cam's practically vibrating off the bed, he feels so good. He pushes Cam's legs apart and fucks him face-to-face for once, slow, God, so slow it drives away the last of Cam's sanity.

By the time Ba'al's through with him, he's panting God, oh my God, my God, and when he hears himself, he realizes there's a part of him that means it.


5.

Nobody does anything stupid like try to console him. There's a hell of a lot of relief that anybody so much as made it through the gate before the Mountain came crashing down, and thank fucking Christ he got on the radio to the Artemis in time--they called her back to Atlantis, and she's safe as she can be here in Pegasus--but the headcount, at the end of it, is fourteen. Fourteen men and women from the SGC, and the only one Cam's ever exchanged more than six words with is Siler.

Sam takes it pretty well, considering. He knows she's read his reports, heard all about how the Ori finally kicked the shit out of Earth, knows what happened to the people she cared about, too. Part of him hates her for not being there and living through it with him; the rest of him's glad she got out when she did, glad she and the rest of Atlantis are giving him somewhere to run to.

He makes a contribution, at least. He's got the gene. He knows how to shoot a gun. He can sure as hell fight Wraith. He puts the rest of it aside, tries his damnedest to forget about Earth. Turns out McKay's not so bad if he's getting laid regular (although Cam has to force himself not to punch the guy's lights out the first time he catches McKay leaving Sam's quarters early in the morning; some protective instincts die hard). Cam only has to threaten him with a lemon once or twice before they get used to each other.

Getting laid himself helps some; turns out that despite Sheppard's singularly lousy taste in football teams, they've got a lot in common. A fetish for jumper sex is only one of 'em, but it's a nice one. Sheppard's even got the 1984 Orange Bowl game, and that Hail Mary never gets old. And, thank God, Sheppard never tries to make him talk about it. What's there to say, really? "Sorry you lost your world and your family and your friends and everybody you cared about. Wanna fuck?"

He's starting to think they could really make something out of all this, out of Atlantis and Pegasus and, yeah, Sheppard too, when the word starts coming in. It starts with some planet on the edge of Pegasus, someplace even the Wraith don't bother with half the time. The survivors--and there aren't many--say a guy with whited-out eyes came through the gate with a book and a stick and a bunch of religious phoney baloney, blew some shit up, and insisted they start worshipping a bunch of gods the survivors never heard of.

Cam lets Sheppard down as easy as he can, but he puts a stop to the fucking and the late-night football arguments and anything else he's got on Atlantis that's personal instead of duty. Sheppard doesn't say a word.

-end-