Cam didn't see much of Sheppard once he got to Atlantis on the Daedalus. After the first awkward meeting with both of them batting "Colonel"s to and fro like ping-pong and Sheppard trying not to let on he thought Cam was after his job, they left each other alone.
The last thing Cam wanted was Sheppard's role as the city's military commander. He'd burnt himself out on SG-1, then when things had gone sour with Amy, all he wanted was a bolt-hole. If that happened to be in a different damn galaxy, all the better. Get the hell away from the SGC, fly spaceships real fast, and try not to think about why Amy had broken up with him. Military commander? Sheppard could have it and good luck to him.
Anyway, Cam had enough to do training up pilots for Atlantis' new F-302 squad. Or rather their old F-302 squad. Earth had upgraded to the latest F-306 model and handed off a bunch of their outmoded fighters to Atlantis as part of the new "let's take this Wraith threat seriously" policy. They'd sent Atlantis back to Pegasus jam packed with personnel and firepower – Sheppard had had to open up two extra rooms by the armory just to store ammo, from what Cam had heard.
People were nice enough – there were others he knew from the SGC, like Lorne, and one time Ronon sat with him and chatted about Teal'c. McKay ignored him, and Cam guessed that was his own damn fault, but boy, McKay held grudges like he had a PhD in it. Sheppard mostly sat with his team, but every now and then Cam would glance over and find Sheppard watching him. He looked away fast when Cam caught his eye, stealing fries off McKay's plate or making a crack to wind him up – McKay always seemed good for a diversion.
Cam had no idea why Sheppard was so twitchy around him. They'd promoted Sheppard to full bird and passed out medals and commendations to the heroes of Atlantis like free drinks at a Christmas party. There was no way Cam was any sort of competition, which was good, as Cam'd had to lean heavily on Landry back at the SGC to get himself posted here. In the end, after he threatened to quit altogether, they'd made him a "special consultant" responsible for flight training, and here he was.
There was a lot of classroom time with the new recruits – they were training up non-gene carriers now they had the F-302s, so Cam was working with a handful of Air Force personnel from Earth, four Athosians and a couple of Travelers from Larrin's ship. All part of the new "integration" policy, which Zelenka called "glasnost", making Woolsey purse his lips. Cam just watched the show and kept his head down at senior staff meetings.
After a few weeks he got antsy about his fitness. He'd been going to the gym and trying to get the better of Teyla, pitting the Sodan techniques he'd been taught against her Athosian stick-fighting. He hadn't won yet, but the sparring was fun. Running was his thing, though, so once he'd figured out the transporters and stopped getting lost in endless bronze-colored hallways, he added a morning run to his routine. Outside, the salt air sharp in his nostrils, past ruined gardens and cordoned-off towers where the shield had failed in the replicator attack years ago, and never been repaired.
He saw Sheppard and Ronon on the second day, taking a similar route on the east pier then heading off up some steps. Ronon waved as they passed, and Sheppard lifted his chin. It got to be a routine, as their routes wove together here and there: a hand-lift, a nod from Sheppard, and the two of them veering away into some entrance Cam didn't know.
Then Sheppard was injured on a mission. Cam heard about it over lunch – the mess hall was a hotbed of gossip, especially about AR-1. Stabbed in the thigh, they said, by a feral teenager Sheppard's team had found in the ruins of a culled planet. Keller was keeping him in the infirmary overnight, but it wasn't too bad. Not compared to being impaled by a hive ship tentacle, Cam guessed; he'd read the reports. He liked reading reports, especially about AR-1. Sheppard had a deft way with euphemism – almost as good as O'Neill – and Cam enjoyed trying to figure out what had really gone down.
Ronon ran alone the next morning, appearing from a hallway Cam thought maybe led to the desalination plant, and falling into step alongside Cam. This time, he didn't veer away and they ran for 40 minutes until Cam shouted "Gotta go," and peeled off, heading for a transporter. Ronon waved and speeded up, vanishing away down the pier. Cam wondered if he held back like that with Sheppard. Probably – Cam had ten years on him, and Sheppard had almost that much. It wasn't about Cam's legs, his old injuries; they'd all been injured at one time or other. Anyway, he wasn't thinking about the injury to his legs, or…nope, not thinking about that.
Sheppard was back on deck ten days later, once Keller cleared him. Maybe Ronon had said something about running together with Cam every morning. Whatever, Sheppard didn't miss a beat when Ronon fell into step with Cam as usual. He pulled up as well when Cam called it a morning, waving Ronon off and grimacing as Ronon put on the speed and pounded away. "Fucker's humoring us," he panted, leaning against the wall and massaging his leg - the injured one, Cam guessed.
"You okay?" he asked. Sheppard shot him a look and Cam realized he might think Cam was humoring him as well. "I mean, heard you got stabbed."
"Yeah," drawled Sheppard. "Yet another scar for the collection, whoop de doo."
Cam snorted. "A nice clean in and out knife wound? You should see mine." He bit back the words as soon as they left his mouth, because jeez, way to be a one-upping jackass, plus it kind of sounded like a come on. Was it a come on?
He made a fuss of checking his watch and backed into the transporter, muttering something about being late for class and feeling like he was back in high school. Sheppard watched him go, a faint crease between his eyebrows.
Seconds later and half a mile away, still flustered, Cam almost banged into McKay who was boarding the transporter head bent, engrossed by something on his laptop. "Watch out, Colonel," snapped McKay. "Being blissed out on endorphins doesn't give you the right to run the rest of us down, and I bruise easily."
Before Cam could muster any sort of comeback, the doors closed with a whoosh. Cam glared at the transporter, then gave it up as a bad job and trotted off to his room. He really was going to be late for class at this rate.
He was tense the next day, but Sheppard turned up with Ronon again and they got into a routine of morning runs, trading off point until Ronon waved and powered off, leaving them gasping. It got to be their thing, him and Sheppard. Left behind in Ronon's dust, bitching about getting old while they groaned through cool-down. Cam tried not to ogle Sheppard's ass, or the flashes of midriff when he raised his arms in a triceps stretch. No point window shopping for something you can’t use, he told himself sternly. Sheppard wasn't teasing him – the reverse, if anything – but it was hard not to enjoy the view, once in a while.
Then Teyla came down with a stomach bug and got taken off the mission roster for a few weeks. Sheppard tried a marine in her place – Lucy Devereaux who'd come out on the Daedalus with Cam. "So that was a bust," Sheppard said two days later, leaning on the railing while Cam pushed his left leg through a hamstring stretch. "McKay and Devereaux were at each others' throats within five minutes and neither of them would give an inch. I wanted to kill the both of them by the time we stepped back through the gate."
"McKay can have that effect," allowed Cam. "And I've heard Devereaux sounding off in the mess. She sure does like the last word."
"Tell me about it," muttered Sheppard, rolling his eyes. "McKay's not so bad once you get to know him, and he's mission-critical, so I'm gonna have to replace Devereaux. Teyla thinks Gella, one of the Athosian hunters, might work out okay, but she wants to train her up some more first."
Cam shot him a look. "She's not coming back? She all right?" He liked Teyla. She could take a puffed up marine down with a few choice words, let alone blows, and she had a good heart.
Sheppard nodded. "Yeah, it's not common knowledge yet, but turns out she's pregnant again. Morning sickness is hitting her harder this time – she says that means it'll be a girl." He shrugged. "We don't need a negotiator for the next couple of missions – uninhabited planets McKay's checking for Ancient tech. You know how it is, though. Shit can hit the fan any damn time."
"Oh, yeah," said Cam with feeling. "Been there, got the postcard."
Sheppard smirked and nodded. "Uh huh, so what I need is someone experienced. Someone who's done plenty of gate travel." He eyed Cam. "Whaddaya say? Care to hand off the training for a couple of weeks and join us?"
Cam thought about it. It was mostly classroom stuff, applied math and physics to bring the Athosians and Travelers up to speed. Their instincts and reaction times were great, but they hadn't had formal educations. He'd already lined up a couple of McKay's science team as teachers, and Lorne was keen to do some sessions. "Yeah, okay," he agreed. "I can fit you into my busy schedule."
Sheppard snorted. "I bet. C'mon, let's get breakfast."
So Cam was on AR-1 now. Sometimes. Gella joined the team, and man, she gave Ronon a run for his money with the big scary knives. Sheppard got Lorne to pick up some of the F-302 training and took Cam along about one mission in four, whenever he wanted extra fire-power or Gella wasn't needed.
McKay bitched at him, but then he bitched at everyone and Cam figured there was no real malice in it – it was just his default mode. He viewed Cam and John as a boxed set, calling them Colonel 1 and Colonel 2.
The missions ran together in Cam's mind. One uninhabited planet was much like another in Pegasus it seemed – woodlands, or savanna, sometimes mountains. Today they'd had to hike a few miles from the gate, up an overhung gorge where Sheppard wouldn't risk a puddlejumper. They were resting, and Ronon had brewed up some coffee. Gella wasn't with them – off trading her furs at a seasonal market the Athosians never missed.
McKay, unusually, hadn't been drawn by the smell of the brew and was still pottering about inside the outpost carved into the ravine wall. "Where are the Colonels?" he called, his voice echoing oddly. "I don't like the look of those shadows over there. There could be Rodents of Unusual Size, or bats. Where's my back-up?"
"Jeez, Rodney," grumbled Sheppard, clambering to his feet and grabbing his P-90. "We already checked the place out top to toe and there's nothing in there except annoying astrophysicists." He peered through the vine-hung doorway. "There's no room for three of us – and don't call us that. Makes us sound like your pet labradors or something."
"Hah!" retorted McKay. "I should be so lucky. Labradors would be trainable."
Sheppard grimaced at Cam and rolled his eyes – and then the sky was split by a high-pitched whine, and everyone froze.
"Wraith!" spat Ronon, kicking out the fire and packing the coffee things in record time.
"We’re under the overhang here," said Sheppard, peering up at a small patch of sky visible through the trees growing further up the cliff-face. "Wait them out?"
McKay's pale face peered out from the doorway, over his shoulder. "What if they know about this place?"
Ronon nodded, slinging his pack on and unholstering his blaster. "McKay's right – it's too risky, a dead end. They beam down here and we're trapped."
Sheppard nodded. "Okay. Across the stream away from this place and into the woods, other side of the gorge. Work our way back downstream and stay hidden." He grabbed McKay's arm and hauled him towards the water's edge, still under the trees. Cam followed and took McKay's laptop out of his hands, dropping it into his backpack and slapping the velcro flap shut. It felt kind of like organizing Daniel.
"Thanks, Colonel," said McKay, glancing at Cam with wide, frightened eyes, then squinting back up at the sky again.
The whining noise had died away, but Cam could still hear it in the distance. "You're welcome," he whispered.
"Gonna be exposed for a minute while we cross over," said Ronon behind them. "Need to make it snappy."
"Yes, yes," grumbled McKay. "Slippery rocks, icy water and the Wraith joyriding above. Perfect."
"I'll go first," said Ronon. "See how bad it is."
"Yeah, okay," said Sheppard. "We'll cover you." Cam stepped to the edge of the trees and trained his P-90 on the sky, alongside Sheppard.
"Can you bring 'em down with rifle fire?" he asked Sheppard, watching Ronon step neatly from rock to rock, like he was dancing.
"Maybe," said Sheppard, answering Ronon's thumb's up with a wave before the big man vanished behind a tree across the stream. "If they're low enough. Course, if they are, you're likely gonna get culled first. It's not a recommended tactic." He turned to McKay. "Rodney – you're up next, c'mon. Just do what Ronon did."
"Oh, you must be joking. Have you seen the length of his legs?" But McKay was moving out, more tentative and clumsy, but still, the Wraith could appear any minute and he was out there under the sky, hopping from rock to rock. He skidded a little, and Sheppard tensed up. McKay windmilled his arms and regained his balance, scrambling up the rocks on the far side. Sheppard let out a pent-up breath.
"Good for him," said Cam. "That took guts."
Sheppard shot him a look, amused. "Yeah, like I said, Rodney's okay."
"Pssst!" came McKay's loud whisper from across the narrow gorge. His face peeped out between two trees and he waved a scanner. "Now would be good, Colonels. C'mon, boys, heel!"
"Spoke too soon…" muttered Sheppard through gritted teeth. He took Cam's arm. "You first. I'll be right behind."
It wasn't all that slippery in fact, and Cam would have been fine if the damn dart hadn't screamed across the sky again when he was mid-way across. He tensed, waiting for a culling beam, and there was a flash of white, but further downstream. The dart vanished, whining away as though powered by a buzz-saw. Then Cam saw the Wraith, twenty feet below him on a flat rock. It had white-blond hair and was wearing a long, dark coat like something out of a gothic horror movie. It raised its stunner and he ducked, then promptly slipped and fell into a pool.
The water was freezing and for a second he thought he'd been stunned, then he struggled up, scrabbling for his weapon. Knocking the water out of it he fired a burst at the Wraith, which was crouched half behind a rock to avoid Ronon's gun. It absorbed the bullets cheerfully, leering up at him with pointed teeth and firing a stunner blast that just missed his left arm. More shots from Ronon distracted it and Cam tried to climb up out of the pool, but his foot was bruised and wedged awkwardly and the submerged rocks were slick.
"C'mon," grunted Sheppard, dragging him up and onto the far bank then pushing him down and turning, as he sprayed the Wraith with burst after burst, red beams from Ronon's blaster joining in. The thing finally fell off its rock and into a pool below, bobbing there face down, unmoving.
"Thanks," panted Cam, climbing gingerly to his feet and testing his injured foot. He could walk, but it'd swell up for sure.
"Fuckers're hard to kill," Sheppard said, pushing Cam ahead of him into the trees where Rodney was glaring at his scanner and Ronon waited, peering about, blaster out. "You gotta keep firing."
Ronon grinned, white teeth showing. "Popped your Wraith cherry, huh, Mitchell?"
"Oh charming," said McKay. "You've been learning slang from the marines again, haven't you?"
"Yep," said Ronon, and led them down the hill through the brush, sticking close to the cliffs.
They made it back to the cloaked jumper and waited out the Wraith. The darts circled like wasps, buzzing angrily for another hour, then the gate activated and they shot through. While they waited, Sheppard made Cam put his foot up on the bench at the back of the jumper, taking it into his lap and easing off Cam's boot. He checked Cam's ankle and the bones of his foot, prodding carefully.
"Reckon it's just bruised," Cam said, wincing as Sheppard pressed on the swollen, purpling area near his big toe. "Ow."
"Hold still," said Sheppard. He stuck a gel-pack into a compartment in the wall of the jumper and pulled it out, freezing cold, a minute later, draping it over Cam's bruised foot.
"Nice," said Cam. "An ice-maker. All we need now's a little bourbon."
McKay snorted and looked up from the laptop where he was trying to figure out why that last dart hadn't registered on his scanner. "Yeah, because all we need is a couple of drunk Colonels when we're fighting off the Wraith."
"Might not have needed to fight them if your scanner'd worked properly," Sheppard said mildly, and McKay scowled and hammered harder on his keyboard.
Sheppard was holding the cold-pack in place, his other hand warm around Cam's ankle, and Cam suddenly, powerfully knew why the Victorians had considered ankles unbearably erotic. No risk of him disgracing himself, of course, but it suddenly felt way too intimate, Sheppard cradling his foot, the skin of his callused palm warm against Cam's heel. If he'd been capable of getting hard, Cam thought there might have been some risk of that, and shit, fuck, he was crushing on Sheppard, and how had he not seen that coming?
The bruised foot took him off missions and the flight roster for a couple of weeks, and no running, of course. Sheppard took to waving Cam over to his table at mealtimes, and started coming around in the evenings to play videogames or watch movies.
Cam guessed that Sheppard was sorry for him, being injured and all. Plus he was most likely bored, McKay being with Keller and Ronon with Amelia. Teyla was feeling better but apparently her blood pressure was dicey so she alternated between the Athosians and light duties in the city. Cam and Sheppard got on pretty well now their initial awkwardness had passed, shooting the shit about missions, idiot bureaucrats at the SGC and tall tales from flight school.
Cam sometimes caught himself staring at Sheppard's jaw or the cant of his hips. His mouth was a cupid's bow and sometimes Sheppard licked it, tongue flicking out when he was caught up in a game. Cam made himself look away. Goddam stupid crush, but dammit, Sheppard was hot and Cam wasn't blind. Nope, blindness wasn't his problem…but he wasn't thinking about that.
He might have been able to go on like that, unrequited but not unhappy, not if he got to hang out with Sheppard, if it hadn't been for P6G-448.
P6G-448 was supposed to be uninhabited, but clearly that had changed. They were stunned the moment they stepped through the gate, picked off almost before their atoms reconstituted. Some time later, Cam came to, groaning and curled around himself in a fetal position. Everything hurt and his mouth was foul and parched. Sheppard was still out, slumped unconscious on the floor of…he peered about, there was almost no light…yes, it was a cell. They were in a small, square cell, fronted by bars and a large, clunky padlock.
"Sheppard!" It was Ronon's voice, nearby but not in the cell with them. Cam strained to see past the bars. He could just make out Ronon's face in the gloom. In another cell, across the way.
"He's out cold, still," Cam whispered, his voice hoarse. "Gonna try'n wake him. Rodney?"
"He's here. Groggy, but he's okay."
"Good, okay, that's…hang on." He crawled back to the dark shape that was Sheppard, wondering how he'd even known it was Sheppard when he woke, but he just had. "Sheppard, wake up," Cam whispered, shaking his shoulder.
There was a groan, and Sheppard pulled in tighter, defensively. "Nngm. Mmph," he muttered.
"Sheppard, c'mon. Wake up!" Cam jostled him again, and Sheppard twitched away, then rolled onto all fours and shook himself like a dog. He turned his head and spat weakly. "I know," whispered Cam. "Pretty gross."
"Fuck," husked Sheppard, his voice as cracked as Cam's. "I hate Wraith stunners."
Cam crawled back to the bars. Ronon was still there, leaning on the wall near the front of his and Rodney's cell. "He's coming round. You see anything out there?"
"Nah, not really. Few more cells, but no one else in them I can see. No guards in here with us. One came through not long ago, though, checking."
There was a shuffling noise behind Cam as Sheppard pulled himself over. "Ronon? You and Rodney?"
"Yeah," said Ronon. "We're getting there. Rodney's pissed, but his throat's too sore to talk."
"Huh," whispered Sheppard. "Small mercies," and Cam could hear the smile in his voice, despite its hoarseness. "Got any water?"
"Bastards took my canteen," Ronon admitted. "And all my knives, my gun. You?"
Cam peered around, seeing a bucket, but the smell made it clear it wasn't for water. "Can't see any," he said.
"What, all your knives?" Sheppard asked, disbelievingly.
"Yeah," growled Ronon. "You got anything to open the lock with? Anything they missed?"
"Doubt it, if they're that thorough," said Sheppard, and he and Cam searched their clothing, coming up with nothing. "McKay!" hissed Sheppard. "Can you open the lock?"
"With what, Colonel? The power of my enormous brain?" Rodney's voice was wrecked as well. "Oh wait, that'd be your trick, and this is most certainly not Ancient tech. It' not exactly modern, either, but you get my drift. Medieval-level tech, I'd say, around 1350 or so."
Sheppard looked up at Ronon. "Thought you said he'd lost his voice?"
"Thank you for your concern, Colonel. The fact that I'm about to expire from dehydration–"
Ronon muttered a warning and McKay cut off. They all listened as a heavy-sounding door scraped open, and a flickering light appeared. Boots thudded, getting closer, and two dark shapes loomed into view, one carrying a lantern. They stopped just short of the barred fronts of the cells. Too smart to get close to Ronon, Cam thought.
"Ah, you're up, Lanteans. About time." The lamp was raised and they could see the speaker. Bearded, otherwise nondescript, the usual Pegasus homespun clothing. The man beside him had a thick mustache, and seemed to be a guard. Both of them had stunners, and large knives at their belts. He turned to Ronon, the only one standing. "You the leader?"
"Yeah," deadpanned Ronon. "What d'you want from us?"
"What's your name?" asked the bearded guy.
"Sheppard," said Ronon. Beside Cam, Sheppard twitched. Cam figured he'd let the deception run as long as Ronon wasn't being threatened, but he wouldn't let them harm Ronon.
The guard raised his lamp, and the bearded guy studied Ronon's face. "No, I don't think so. You don't match the description." He turned to the guard. "Stun him again. Maybe he'll remember who he is the next time he comes round."
"Wait," said Sheppard, stepping up to the bars. "I'm Sheppard. I'm the leader."
The bearded guy looked him over, then nodded. "Usually let your men take what's coming to you?"
"No," said Sheppard, his voice as cold as Cam had ever heard it.
"That's good," said the bearded guy, and he grinned, no humor in it. "Because it's you I plan to hurt, Sheppard. You're the one I want to see suffer."
"Why?" blurted Cam. "You don't even know us, and he–"
"Shut it," said the man. "I know you, Lanteans. Squatting in the Ancestor's city where you've no right to be, spreading pestilence, creating abominations." He stepped closer to Sheppard, his face a mask of hate. "Waking the Wraith."
Sheppard stared back, stony, but Cam could see that his fists were clenched, nails biting into the palms.
Cam couldn't help himself. "He didn't mean to, Jesus!" Sheppard put a hand on his arm, quelling.
"Yeah, that's me," Sheppard said, his voice flat. "You wanna beat on someone, pick on me. None of these others had anything to do with it." He jerked a thumb at Cam. "He wasn't even here when it happened. Only joined us recently." Sheppard nodded across at Ronon. "Dex there, he's Satedan, so he's a victim of the Wraith just like you, and Rodney's not even a soldier."
The bearded man showed his teeth. "You say I'm a victim of the Wraith, and you are right, but it was my family they took, Lantean, my wife and all four children. I was a merchant, a wealthy man. Now I am…" he looked down at himself, then back up at Sheppard. "The instrument of your fate."
"I'll go with you," said Sheppard, quiet and flat. "Leave these others alone."
"Oh, for fuck's s–" began McKay, but Ronon shushed him. Cam hoped that Sheppard had a plan, maybe to jump the guard as soon as they opened the door. He got ready to fight, wishing his muscles didn't feel like he'd been beaten all over with a baseball bat.
"No, I don't think so," said the bearded guy thoughtfully. "We open this up and you're just going to do something stupid, aren't you?"
Sheppard said nothing, very still, his face blank.
"No, there are other ways to make you suffer, I think. Humiliation, debasement in front of your men. Debasement by your men."
What? Cam didn't like the sound of that. The guy stepped a little closer to the bars, but not close enough to be grabbed. "You," he said to Cam. "You will take him, like the animals you are. Push him down onto all fours and–"
"I don't fucking believe it!" shouted McKay, ignoring Ronon, hands gripping the bars, his face puce. "Fuck or die? That's the best you cretins can come up with? Give me fucking strength!"
Sheppard had gone pale, Cam saw, fists still clenched. "Not helping, McKay," he gritted out. "Less of the d-word, okay?"
"Anyway," said Cam, feeling numb and weird, hearing himself from a distance. "I can't."
The bearded guy smirked. "Oh I think that with the right incentive, like water when you are near to death from thirst, you will find that you can do anything at all."
"No," said Cam. "I really can't. Fuck him, I mean." He felt his hands move, fumbling at his pants, fingers stiff and clumsy.
"Cam, no," said Sheppard, his voice strangled, but Cam pushed down his BDUs and underwear until they hung off the thigh holster strapped to his better leg. "Shine that light over here," he ordered the guard. The man looked at the bearded guy, who shrugged.
In the lamp's light, the scars on both legs were livid. They tracked down into the folds of the BDUs and up into his groin. "Old injuries," Cam said, his tone flat. "I came close to dying. Didn't die, but I can't fuck. Not any more. Can’t get it up." He stood there, soft cock exposed, trying to draw the attention away from Sheppard. "I could suck him, if you like," he offered. Sheppard made a choked noise. Cam didn't look at him.
"Cover yourself," snapped the bearded man, glowering. Cam pulled his pants up, fastened the buttons.
"I could fuck him if you like?" offered Ronon, slouched grinning and insolent against the bars.
The guard backed away from him a little, and the bearded man took a step back. "I do not think we will risk releasing you, Ronon Dex. Your reputation precedes you."
"Pity," said Ronon. "I'm keen to get my knives back." He bared his teeth. "And use them."
Their captor backed away. "You think you have won?" He spat in Sheppard's direction. "Think again. You have merely exchanged a fast death for a slow one. Thirst is a bad way to die, and I will watch your agony." He looked at Cam as well, then across at Ronon and McKay. "All of you," he said, and he and the guard turned, vanishing into the dark. A moment later the outer door scraped shut.
Sheppard slid down the wall, hands on his knees. "Well, fuck," he said.
Cam let himself sink down against the opposite wall. "Yeah. Bummer."
Across the way, Rodney's voice came out of the gloom. "Yes, yes, all very threatening and vindictive of goatee-guy, but we're going to miss our check-in soon so Woolsey'll send a rescue party long before we get really thirsty." There was a pregnant pause. "Damn, I wish I hadn't mentioned being thirsty, that seems to have made it worse."
"One thing wrong with your theory, McKay," said Ronon. "We're long past check-in and they haven't come. Time sense got sharper when I was running, and it's been way more than six hours. Must've been out from the stunners for a while."
"We've still got our subQs", said Sheppard, and Cam felt for the bump under his skin, yeah, still there. "So why wouldn't they?…Oh. Shit."
"Oh, fuck," said McKay wearily, before Cam had figured it out. "We're not on P6G-448 any more, are we? They moved us – took us back through the gate to somewhere else."
"Probably planet-hopped a few times," Ronon agreed. "No way to trace us."
"The Daedalus's scanners might…" Rodney began, then he trailed off.
"She's not due back for a couple of weeks," said Sheppard quietly. "Caldwell wanted her to have a full maintenance refit so the turnaround's longer."
They sat in silence for some time, then Rodney stirred. "Well, fuck this. I've got even less time than the rest of you, with my hypoglycemia – and don't you dare roll your eyes, Sheppard." Sheppard lifted his hands, miming innocence. "Hmph, yes. Well, you two have been all self-sacrificing and thrown yourselves on your respective swords, as it were, so I think it's my turn, and Ronon's. Leave it with us."
"McKay?" asked John suspiciously. "What are you up to? Rodney?"
McKay was muttering in Ronon's ear, not listening to Sheppard. Ronon nodded. "Go with it," he told Sheppard. It'll be okay." Sheppard grumbled and demanded to know what they were planning, but McKay wouldn't say, and after a while he gave up. They waited, probably several hours, although Cam had no time sense like Ronon. McKay slept – and snored – and Cam managed to nap a little, slumped against the wall, his legs stiff and aching. He didn't think Sheppard slept, or Ronon.
The thirst was bad by the time the guard checked on them again. McKay had made them all, including Ronon, go to the back of their cells as soon as they heard the door scrape open. He was up at the bars, one arm trailing through, limp and dead-looking in the dim light.
The guard tried to see if he was dead, or just passed out, but McKay had positioned himself to hide his face. He looked pretty convincingly sick, probably dead, and Cam couldn't see him breathing. Cam held his own breath, praying that the guard would edge a little closer, lean in just a little more...
McKay pounced, his other hand whipping through the bars and jamming something into the guard's neck. An EpiPen. Cam recognised it – they'd carried them for Daniel. The man choked, his face flushed an unhealthy red, and he sagged, not struggling much, probably dizzy from the epinephrine into his jugular. In a flash, Ronon was there, crushing his head against the bars then cracking his neck. The man's body fell to the floor, Ronon gripping his clothing and he and McKay rifled through various pockets and pouches until McKay hissed triumphantly and flipped a bunch of keys to Ronon. Seconds later, Ronon had the cell unlocked and was handing the keys through to Sheppard.
There were only two other guards outside and Ronon's stunner made short work of them. They found their gear and weapons in a storeroom beyond. The ruined building – possibly a factory a very long time ago – was a warren of rooms, but they met no one else as they crept through to the outer entrance. It was dusk outside, the sky dark blue and the gate a stark ring against a fading sunset. The bearded man found them just as McKay finished dialing, bursting out of the abandoned factory with a cluster of guards. It was too late by then though, the gate shimmering open and their kidnappers' stunners going wide at that distance. On the other side of the gate they waited, guns ready, but no one followed them and the gate winked out again, leaving the four of them on a grassy plain.
"M3X-579," said McKay. "We were here three weeks ago so we know this one's definitely uninhabited." He looked around. "Still no damn water, though."
"Dial us home, Rodney," said Sheppard. "I could use a beer."
"Yeah, right," muttered McKay, punching in the address. "And I'm in sore need of coffee, but no, it'll be nothing but scans and prodding and poking and IV fluids once we get to the infirmary." He was still grumbling when they walked through the wormhole to Atlantis.
So that was that, and Cam went back to avoiding Sheppard, taking himself off the mission roster and picking up the F-302 training full time as soon as he was medically cleared. He started running in the evenings, and hitting the mess hall at odd times of day. It was quieter then, and Cam felt like he needed some quiet, given how noisy it was inside his head. McKay disappeared into the labs, so that was fine, and Ronon didn't say anything – just eyed Cam sometimes when they passed, and shook his head. He did that with Sheppard too though, Cam had noticed, so it was probably just a Ronon thing.
Cam tried not to think about what he'd done, exposing himself like that. He thought about it anyway. It made him feel raw and angry, violated somehow, even though he'd done it to himself. Maybe he hadn't needed to, given what had gone down later with McKay and Ronon. Maybe he'd made a spectacle of himself for nothing at all. He lay in bed, thoughts wheeling like a flock of starlings. Sometimes he had dreams. Mostly, in the dreams, things were worse. The guards shot him, or Sheppard, or shot them all. He woke desperately thirsty, and had to stagger to the bathroom and drink water.
Maybe he'd wanted them to know. Wanted Sheppard to know. He'd never liked secrets, never been a good liar. He tried to feel glad that it was out in the open, but he just felt sick.
Four weeks after P6G-448, Sheppard came to Cam's room after dinner. The door chimed once, but didn't open. Cam called out for whoever it was to come in, but they didn't, so he got up to hit the lock panel. Sheppard was standing there, his face unreadable.
"Oh, Sheppard," Cam said. This was…Sheppard wasn't supposed to do this, to come here and hassle him. "Um," he said, at a loss.
"Can I come in?" asked Sheppard, frowning a little.
"Yeah?" said Cam, not very sure, but Sheppard ignored the way it was mostly a question, and stepped past him into the room.
"Ookay," said Cam, shrugging and palming the door closed. He turned, put his hands in his pockets. "You want a soda?"
"Nope," said Sheppard. "Want to talk." He grimaced and rolled his eyes. "No, well, not really, of course, but we need to. Talk."
"Look, Sheppard," began Cam, then trailed off.
"Yeah, and will you for Christ's sake call me John?" asked Sheppard, sounding exasperated. John. John sounded exasperated. Cam had no idea what the fuck he had to be exasperated about.
"Guess I can try," Cam said. He sat down on the bed. Sheppard – John – sat in the desk chair. Nothing much happened. "So, talking?" said Cam.
"Fuck, I'm crap at this," said Sh-John, scrubbing at the back of his neck. "Look, what you said on the planet, where they…"
There was a pause. "P6G-448? Except it wasn't," Cam said. They never had figured out where they'd been taken.
John sighed. "Yeah, there. I wanted to thank you. It was brave, what you did."
Cam shrugged. "Kinda pointless in the end…"
"It bought us time, gave Rodney a chance to pull something out of his ass." John shrugged. "He does his best work under pressure, Rodney." He looked away, out Cam's window. It was dark, lit-up windows and walkways glittering from nearby towers. John's face was shadowed in the room's dim lighting. He drew in a breath. "Was it true?"
Yeah, and this was what Cam really hadn't wanted to get into. Fuck. He looked down at his hands, then up at John. "Yeah. Not completely, at first, when I was younger, but it was always…problematic at times, after I was shot down. Unpredictable. And as I've gotten older, it's been worse. Nothing doing at all down there, the last two years. My girlfriend broke up with me before I transferred here. She thought she could handle it, could ignore it, but that's what people say, and it doesn't work out. Not in the real world." He shrugged. "People like to fuck."
John grimaced, and looked away again. "Yeah, well, not everyone, maybe. Not me."
Cam snorted. "Oh come on. I've heard McKay call you Kirk, heard the rumors. Wasn't there some princess? And that ascended woman, and when you got trapped in the time dilation field?"
John raised his eyebrows.
"What?" Cam lifted his hands. "I like to read reports!"
John smirked a little. "Yeah, I heard." He rubbed the back of his neck again. "Look, that's all bullshit, and Rodney's fevered imagination." He raised his hands. "Okay, I admit, it's partly my fault, kind of a smokescreen I put up." He sighed. You're not the only one who doesn't feel," he made air quotes, "normal. I got thrown in the deep end here, trying to command a bunch of marines after mercy-killing their CO – you think I was gonna discuss my sex-life with them? Or rather the lack of it."
Cam frowned. "What, it's your being the CO that's the problem? Fraternization? Lonely at the top, and all that?"
"No, you don't get it," said John. "I've never wanted sex, never been interested. Long as I can remember. I'm just not built that way – it leaves me cold." He shot Cam a sharp look. "No, I'm not a virgin and yes, I've tried it with men as well as women. No difference in terms of the lack of interest, but I guess I'm more gay than straight – it's men I'm drawn to, emotionally." He flushed a little, looking nervous, like he was waiting for Cam's reaction. "Romantically."
"You're…drawn to men more than women, but you don't want to…?" Cam puzzled it out.
"Yeah. It fucked up my marriage, and a few relationships. I think in the military, people figured I was gay but closeted for my career." He laughed harshly. "Yeah, what career." He shrugged. "The thing with Chaya was a mind-meld, not sex. I blew off the princess and I tried to sleep with Teer, but nothing doing, so we shared a bed but we didn't fuck. She was impressed – thought I was well on the way to ascension, renouncing the pleasures of the flesh and all that."
"Okay, wow," said Cam, trying to figure out how he felt about all that. It didn't really help him with the crush situation, but he couldn't lay that on Sheppard, on John. Not with all this other shit he was already having to handle. Or not handle, Jesus.
Maybe they were bonding? Reciprocal confessions, to even things up so they could be friends. Cam wasn't sure he could bear just being friends with John. It had kind of been working before, but a lot had happened since then and John stirred up too many feelings in him now. And, shit, this made it worse. He could see how being asexual had hurt John, made him feel like a fuck-up. Cam sure knew that tune – he could sing it in his sleep. It was different for him though – he wanted to, but he had equipment failure. Cam bit his lip. He couldn't pretend that he didn't know all this and just be buddies, share a beer and keep John at arm's length. Not when he wanted to comfort him. And to be comforted. "I don't…" he said helplessly, then couldn't think what else to say.
John's shoulders sagged. He sighed and got up. "No, I guess not. Most people don't. Look, this was a mistake, coming here tonight and, well, hitting on you."
"So you were hitting on me?" Cam asked, frowning. "It was kind of hard to tell…"
John's face twisted. "Like I said – I suck at this stuff. Forget it - I guess we’d just be sticking together for fucked up reasons anyway. I shouldn't have…" He straightened, his face smoothing over, a bland mask. Cam realized he'd mostly seen the mask with John. Joking, smooth, courteous, reserved. Not real. Nothing like he'd seen tonight.
John was at the door. "I'll let myself out," he said, turning away.
The back of his neck, above the black t-shirt, was suddenly more than Cam could bear. The curve was so hopeless, defeated. Could it work? Cam still got turned on, and frustrated that he couldn't do anything about it. The older he got the less that happened, though, so maybe… "Wait," Cam said, standing up. He took a step towards the door.
"It's okay," John said quietly. "We don't have to talk about it again. I'd appreciate if you'd keep my confidences. None of us'll talk about what happened in the cell, so you're safe there."
For some reason Cam suddenly imagined Ronon standing in the room, watching them both and shaking his head in disbelief. "Fuck safe," said Cam, his heart racing. "Fuck that. I don't want safe."
John frowned. "What? Sorry?"
Cam didn't let him get any further. He was done with this shit. He stepped into John's space. John leaned away slightly, his eyebrows going up. Cam tried again. "I'm saying I don't want safe, I want to take a chance. You were hitting on me: I'm saying yes."
"You - really?" asked John. He swallowed, fear and hope both there in his eyes. At least the goddam mask was gone.
"Do you kiss?" Cam asked roughly, then reined himself in. Don't frighten him off. "Do you? Kiss?" he asked again, softly. He put a hand on John's face, very carefully. "Or hug?"
"Yeah, I. Yes," stammered John, eyes blown wide. Excitement, Cam hoped, since it wasn't arousal. Excitement was okay. Hell, he was excited, heart still going like the clappers. He leaned in eagerly, then remembered a Will Smith movie an old girlfriend had dragged him along to, a few years back. Ninety percent he told himself, holding back with difficulty. Not the whole hundred. Ninety percent.
"Ninety what?" asked John, pulling away a little, looking hopeful but slightly baffled. Oops, Cam guessed he'd said that out loud. "Oh!" John's face cleared. Hitch, right? One of Teyla's movie night favorites. So I'm the girl, huh?" He grinned. "We'll see about that. How's about thirty-seventy, or, I don't know, fifty-fifty?"
"Yeah," said Cam, breathless because John's face was right there. "Yeah, that'll work. Whatever you want."
"I want to kiss you, and then I want that hug," and John leaned in and pressed his lips to Cam's. It was chaste and sweet and there was no tongue or grinding or any of the stuff that usually went with kisses when Cam was this lit up, but that was okay, because he had John in his arms, and he was in John's arms, and he held on tight.
Fitting together, Cam thought. It's fitting together, not sticking together like something smashed up and glued back wrong.
And later, cuddling with John on the bed, boots off but still in all their clothes, he thought they fit together pretty well.