John is in the middle of giving Brendan a bath when Cam comes in and leans against the door jamb. "My parents just called," he says, embarrassment and exasperation colouring in his voice. "To remind me that I promised to bring Brendan home for Easter this year."
"Oh," says John, sitting back on his heels, more than a little disappointed. So much for a long weekend with just the three of them, no work and no babysitter. They'd talked about maybe going up into the mountains for a couple of nights, renting a cabin and letting Brendan experience a bit of nature. "When are you going?"
But Cam shakes his head. "I want you to come with us." There's a dull red creeping up his neck, and he mumbles, "I want to introduce you to my parents."
For a minute John stares up at him, dubious. "Introduce me how, exactly?"
Cam shrugs and ducks away, calling back, "I'll think of something!"
Brendan takes advantage of John's inattention to splash him all across the chest, soaking his t-shirt. "I was never this much trouble when I was your age," he tells Brendan, who laughs and waves one of his Little People in the air.
"Spish, spish, spish!" he crows.
* * *
That week John brings up the issue at random intervals. "What exactly have you told them about me?" he asks on Wednesday morning. They're rushing out the door, already late, and Cam mutters something vague about them knowing that John is Brendan's other legal guardian and that he's living with them.
"But they know about us, right?" John persists, frowning, just as Cam steps off on Level 19. The elevator doors cut him off mid-sentence, and they never get a chance to pick up the conversation once SG-15 comes back through the gate covered in spores and the SGC goes into a medical quarantine. It's a pain cleaning up the mess, but John figures the odd giggle-fit or case of the munchies brought on by alien shrooms is an improvement over mass amnesia or Hive-ship tentacle monsters.
Their flight is at 21:00 on Thursday and Cam's brother, Casey, emails to say he'll meet them at the arrival gate. It's not until they've landed in Topeka that John regrets not pushing Cam harder for an answer. Casey does a classic double-take at the sight of John with a cranky Brendan in his arms, and John grabs at Cam's elbow. "I thought they knew I was coming!"
Cam shoots him a quick, apologetic look before he's dropping their luggage and hugging his brother. John steps out of the way. "Hey, little brother," Cam laughs. "Thanks for picking us up." He holds the other man off at arm's length and looks him over. "God, you look good!" The Mitchell brothers look like family the way John and Dave don't, with the same light brown hair, blue eyes, and handsome features, though Casey's an inch shorter and broader in the shoulders.
Brendan looks more like a Mitchell than he does a Sheppard, except for his dark brown hair. Those cowlicks are all John.
Cam puts a hand on John's back to usher him closer. "John, this is my younger brother, Casey. Case, this is John. John Sheppard. He, uh--" Cam fumbles for a way to explain John, wincing a little when Casey quirks a curious eyebrow at him.
Well, that answered that question at least. John tries not to notice the twisting in his gut. "I'm Brendan's other legal guardian," he cuts in, and shakes Casey's hand the way his dad taught him, confident and firm. "Nice to meet you."
It's a forty minute drive from Forbes Field to Auburn, and John doesn't realise how exhausted he is from worrying about meeting Cam's family until he wakes up, suddenly, and realises they've arrived at the farm and that he's slept through the entire drive, same as Brendan. He suspects Cam and Casey had a conversation while he was unconscious, because Casey keeps shooting him these narrow-eyed looks.
They meet Casey's wife, Susanna, at the front door, and she leads them into the kitchen where Cam's mother and father are talking quietly over hot cocoa and a checkers game. "Cam, honey!" his mother exclaims, hugging Cam and looking so delighted to see her son that John aches, briefly, for his own mom.
She scoops Brendan from Cam's arms, kissing his cheek, crooning, "Here's my sweet pea." Cam's father comes over, one crutch dangling from his arm so he can clasp his shoulder. "We're glad to have you home, son."
Cam pulls his father into a warm embrace. "Glad to be home, Dad. You guys didn't have to wait up for us." But he's grinning wide and happy as he says it. Then Cam turns to John, puts a gentle hand on his arm to tug him closer. "Mom, Dad." He glances over at them. "I'd like you to meet John, the friend I told you about."
When everyone's eyes turn on him, John's instincts scream at him to run and hide, to get far away from this freakishly Norman Rockwell family, all the way back to the Pegasus galaxy if possible. The smile Cam's sending his way is probably supposed to be comforting, but John can see the fear in it, and that scares him more than anything else. Because if Cam is scared, if he can't make himself do this and it comes down to John or his family, John knows which of them is going to lose.
He said 'friend', not 'boyfriend'.
At least Cam's parents seem pleased to meet John, shaking his hand eagerly and saying things like, "We're so happy you could come," and "Cam's told us so much about you." That comes as a surprise to John, and he can't help the faint spark of hope it stirs in him.
"Call me Wendy," Cam's mom tells him, smiling Cam's wide smile. "Now, make sure you stay warm tonight, John. I put a nice duvet on the bed, but go ahead and grab more blankets from the linen closet if you get cold." She pats his cheek like he's already one of her own. "And if you need any help with Brendan at night, you just give me a holler, okay?"
Then she turns to Cam and says, "Honey, I made up the couch for you down here since your Aunt Marion's in the other guest room," and that spark in John turns to cold ashes, because of course Cam's sleeping on the couch, where else would he be sleeping, and Cam's not looking at John and he's not saying a word, just going along with it like a good boy, like a good son.
* * *
John and Brendan are in Cam's old bedroom, which has since been converted to a generic guest room, though vestiges of a teenaged Cam reveal themselves in the faded stickers of various sports teams stuck to the back wall of the closet, the model of a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress hanging gracefully by the window, and the framed picture on top of the dresser of a skinny, sweet-faced Cam posed with his prom date, a pretty girl with eighties hair in a poofy pink dress. The crib Brendan's sleeping in belonged to Cam's nephew; John's twin bed used to be Cam's. If he closes his eyes, John can imagine he smells Cam beside him, sun-warmed earth and bright blue skies, clean male scent and gun oil, lizard-brain comforting, and not lavender Bounty sheets.
He jerks awake in the early hours of the night when the door cracks open. "It's me," Cam whispers, slipping inside. He bends over the crib to check on Brendan, whose breathing is less congested than earlier in the evening. "He's fine, not as warm as on the plane," says Cam, crossing over to sit on the bed by John's knees.
"You shouldn't be up here," says John, staring over Cam's shoulder, not even trying to make out his features in the dark. It's easier that way. "This whole thing, it was a bad idea." He fights to keep the bitterness out of his voice. He'd be the worst kind of hypocrite to blame Cam for chickening out: Cam's had a handful of months to deal with suddenly being saddled with a kid, giving up SG-1 after it'd been his dream for so long, and starting a new relationship, a gay relationship, after forty years of being arrow-straight. John's known he was queer since he was a kid, and in all that time he's never managed to actually say the words out loud to his family. Who was he to judge?
But Cam bends over him, kisses him softly, a plea for forgiveness. "I'll tell them first thing in the morning," he says quietly. "I'm so sorry, John. You didn't deserve that."
"They're your family," he demurs, but it's a half-hearted protest at best because whether it's fair or not, whether it's deserved or not, John's come to expect Cam to be so much braver than him about these kinds of things.
"So are you," Cam says, and presses John back into the pillows. "You and Brendan, you're my family too." John's arms go up automatically, clinging to Cam's shoulders as they kiss, sleep-sour breath and dry lips. "Can I sleep with you tonight?" he asks, tentative, as if John might push him away.
"I didn't want you on the couch in the first place," he whispers back, pulling Cam down on top of him, needing the reassurance of his weight, needing to believe Cam's not going to change his mind about them. It's not the first time they've slept apart since they've gotten together, but all the other times were work-related and beyond their control. John hates how cold and lonely it felt without Cam beside him, how much he missed Cam spooning him, the strong arms around him, the warm lips against the back of his neck before they drifted off.
John's not going to try to have sex in Cam's parents' house, surrounded by Mitchells who don't know that he's corrupted one of their own, but they make out for long, breathless minutes, touching and tasting and smelling until John's senses are filled with Cam.
Cam wraps himself around John, familiar and comforting, breathes the words into his hair, a promise and an apology. "I'll tell them first thing in the morning."
* * *
There's no alarm clock, and the Mitchells are farmers who get up with the sun, so by the time they shower and dress and get Brendan into an outfit not smeared with soggy biscuit, it's long past breakfast and Cam's nephew and nieces are already dashing about the yard with the dog. Cam lets Brendan sit in a grown-up chair when he fusses at the beautiful, hand-crafted wooden high-chair Frank and Wendy must have pulled from storage. "Two hands, kiddo," Cam admonishes him when Brendan grabs his little cup of milk with only one hand. It's a game he plays, because Brendan knows he's supposed to use both hands when not using his sippy cup: he's testing how far he can go before Cam or John tells him 'no'.
"Eat your banana," John sighs, and leans his head on a hand. Even though he slept like a baby once Cam joined him in bed, he still feels like crap, tense and tired from a week of worry. He can't stop thinking about those warm, friendly smiles and how they're going to disappear like the sun behind rain clouds the minute Cam tells his parents about him, about sleeping with a man and not being straight any more, not being their perfect baby boy.
"Outside, Daddy? Go outside?" says Brendan, staring out the open kitchen door to where his cousins are battling an invisible dragon with a couple of plastic light-sabres, intrigued by these potential new playmates who are so much bigger than the toddlers in his play group, yet smaller than the adults with whom he spends most of his time.
"Breakfast first, okay?" Cam replies, coming over to the kitchen table with two huge plates in his hands. They're piled high with eggs, grits, sausages, pancakes, and biscuits, with fruit preserves and freshly churned butter. It's a heart attack waiting to happen, but John falls on his plate like a man starving, even the grits, suddenly remembering he skipped dinner last night. There's no talking beyond requests for more coffee, which Cam dutifully supplies with a twinkle in his blue eyes like he knows a secret.
When John finally pushes away his plate, pleasantly full and awake, Cam laughs and teases, "I guess you're feeling better?"
"Whatever," John mumbles, blushing. Cam's leaning over to kiss a bit of jam from his chin when Casey and Susanna come in from the hall. Cam jerks back like he's touched a hot stove.
"Oh," says Casey, startled. He stares at them for a minute, and they stare back, nervous and waiting for a verdict. Susanna just looks embarrassed.
"Is there any coffee left, Cam?" she asks brightly, though the pot is right out on the table, empty.
Cam scrubs the back of his head and sighs. "It's fine, Susanna. I really should have said something earlier." He shrugs a little. "I just didn't know how to say it."
Casey frowns at him, clearly baffled. "Huh. And here I was, telling myself not to jump to conclusions." He and Susanna exchange glances, and John figures they had a conversation about Cam and him last night after everyone went to bed.
"But Cam, you've never been--" Susanna cuts herself off, darts a glance at John.
Casey is more direct. "How long have you felt this way?"
"It's kind of complicated." Cam sounds rueful, but John thinks that's more for him than for Casey. "I guess the easiest answer is two and a half years? John was stateside for a couple of months, we were hanging out a lot, and I guess that's when I started thinking about it." He looks at John, looks him right in the eyes, and there's no fear in him. "So two and a half years. That's how long it's been for me."
John wants to duck his head, feels the urge to hide from the intensity of Cam's gaze, but he can't look away. "We didn't really get together until last month, though," he tries to clarify, not wanting Cam's family to think this has been going on for years with Cam not saying a word. "After I decided to stay." After he gave up Atlantis, the home he'd made for himself, for a son he never imagined having and a man he never imagined he could have.
"I see," says Casey, slow and considering, as though he really does understand when even John doesn't and it's his life. "You haven't told Mom and Dad yet," and it's a statement, not a question.
"I'll go tell them now," Cam replies, and stands. John grabs his arm, some instinct telling him to pull him down, stop him from speaking the words and ruining things forever. But Cam smiles at him, wide open and easy, comforting, and leans over to kiss him lightly on the mouth. "It's gonna be fine, John. I promise."
John's holding him to that, but all he says out loud is, "We'll be in the garden, fighting dragons," and watches through the window as Cam makes his way around the side of the house, towards the barn.
Casey and Susanna don't say much to him as they help clear the table and wash the dishes, chatting idly about the aunts, uncles, and cousins they'll see at dinner tonight before the family heads to church for the Good Friday evening service. Casey's expression is unreadable, John can't figure what he's thinking, but if they're going to pretend the conversation they just had didn't happen, John is more than willing to go along with it.
"Dad? Outside?" Brendan asks, holding his arms up for John to carry him. It's both sad and funny how well-trained he's become, trading in a soldier's instincts for those of a father.
John takes his time walking down the wheelchair ramp into the garden to give Brendan a chance to change his mind: Brendan's pretty good with new adults so long as they don't yell or get too close too quickly, but he tends to be more nervous about meeting other kids than his earlier excitement would indicate. Maybe because he spent the first year of his life in Atlantis, the alternate Atlantis, surrounded by scientists and Marines, all grown-ups except for the other Teyla's daughter, Tagaan.
Or maybe it's because toddlers are strange and fickle creatures in general. John's bet is on the latter.
Casey's kids stop their games and run up to them, curious. "Is that Brendan?" asks the oldest one, a girl with her long blonde hair up in a ponytail.
"Yep, this is your cousin Brendan." He tries to coax Brendan down to the ground, but the poor kid's suddenly clinging to him, eyes big and scared. "Maybe if you guys introduced yourselves?"
"Hi, I'm Taylor, and I'm eleven," the oldest girl says with all the brash confidence of a ring leader. "Now you, Georgie."
"I'm Georgia Anne and I'm seven! Look, I lost a tooth!" The younger girl has a gap in her mouth which she shows off with great satisfaction. "The tooth fairy only gave me a dollar, though," she adds, a little disappointed.
Her older sister rolls her eyes dramatically at the mention of the tooth fairy, and John has to bite back a grin at how awesomely eleven she is. Casey and Susanna come up behind him, and Casey grabs the youngest one around the middle, flipping him upside down to a riot of giggles. "Who's this guy, then?" Casey laughs, holding him up so the kid can pretend to be walking on his hands.
"I'm Tommy!" the boy shouts. "I'm five!" He flips right side up again and holds out a grass-stained hand for John to shake.
Taylor sticks out her hip and narrows her eyes at John. "You didn't introduce yourself," she accuses him.
John opens his mouth to reply, but Casey cuts in, clasps John's shoulder the same way he would Cam's, and tells his kids: "This is your Uncle John. He's Brendan's other dad." When John stares at him, surprised and uncertain, he shrugs and grins a bit sheepishly. "Hey, he's my big brother. That makes you family."
"Does this mean Uncle Cam is gay?" Taylor looks curious, but not too confused. "Does that mean you're gay? How did you have Brendan, then? Is he adopted?"
"Taylor, please don't be rude," Susanna scolds her.
John can't help flinching at the interrogation, never mind that it's coming from an eleven-year-old. But considering what this weekend is supposed to be about, he feels she deserves an answer. "I'm not sure what word your uncle wants to use, but he likes girls and he likes me," John explains, glancing quickly at Susanna to make sure he isn't overstepping his bounds. "And I like guys and girls. But I like your Uncle Cam best out of everyone."
Taylor thinks about this for a minute, head tilted so her ponytail brushes her shoulder. "I think that means you're bisexual," she decides, finally, and Susanna stares at her daughter in amazement. "But you still didn't say how old you are," Taylor protests, close to pouting.
Casey bursts out laughing, and Brendan laughs with him, probably because Casey sounds so much like Cam. "He's older than me, Taylor," he chuckles. "He's old like Uncle Cam."
John can't help laughing a little too, with Brendan in his arms and Cam walking towards him from the fields, his parents at his side. Even from this distance John can see that Wendy has a hand tucked into Cam's, and that Frank is looking sideways at them, smiling. It's the Mitchell smile, wide open and easy, and exactly like coming home.