Pairing: Cam Mitchell/John Sheppard
Disclaimer: No, I don’t own them. To my profound disappointment
Summary: He wonders sometimes if this is what going on means now, if he’s got the strength left to do it again (major spoilers for SG1 Continuum, and SGA The Last Man).
The Year That Was
Cam’s never really thought of himself who’s dependent on the people around him. He depends on them, sure, his friends and his family and the people he trusts to have his back in the field, but he’s spent a lot of time in new places with new people, and it’s always been okay. He’s never really been lonely, or felt abandoned. Not until he winds up in a whole new timeline with no way home.
It’s just one more thing to dislike about this new world he’s suddenly in, where he can go for *days* without anything more than an occasional exchanged pleasantry with the woman who runs the corner store or his neighbor across the road.
At first, it’s just Sam and Jackson who he really misses, because at least they know. At least they’ll understand how out of place he feels, the longing to go back to a home that doesn’t exist any more. Then it’s Landry as well, who’s turned out to be a little creepy and really not that nice (and also whom Cam has a slightly irrational dislike for on account of him being the person to say they couldn’t try to change things). After a while it’s even O’Neill, because the O’Neill they have here would never have come by Cam’s hospital room and told him he could have anything he wanted, and it freaks Cam out to know that.
He’s pretty sure he still doesn’t miss them as much as he does his family, a dull ache of loss every time he thinks of them, of his mom, who’s out there somewhere because her father didn’t die on a ship, who he’s sure it will hurt far more to see than not to. It’s only late at night, when he’s a little drunk and sitting in the dark feeling sorry for himself, that he admits that he misses them in the exact same way, because the people he knew are gone, even if they have counterparts here.
It takes him three months to be sure that he’s not being watched, that no-one’s tapping his phone or hacking his internet connection, and then he starts looking people up. There’s no trace he can find of Vala or Teal’c, unsurprisingly, and he hopes that they’re off in the wilds of the Milky Way, living happy, normal lives where they don’t know how things used to be.
He knows they’re not.
He tries Dr Lam (senior researcher for the CDC) and Major Davies (working in Washington on something too classified for Cam to try to hack the details). He looks up a bunch of people he flew 302s with (mostly still in the Air Force, mostly deployed overseas, and it’s not until he’s gotten hold of a couple of their addresses that he realizes there’s no way he can write them without getting a visit from the MPs by return post). He looks up Ferguson, figuring that in a universe where Cam never existed, Ferguson still should.
Ferguson turns out to have died, barely a year ago, of lung cancer. Cam spends the next two days inside with his computer turned firmly off, wondering if Ferguson already had it when he died in Cam’s universe, sick with the thought that his own non-existence didn’t even make this better, thinking of all the things Ferguson did before he died here that he didn’t in Cam’s world.
It’s not a good week. At least his boss doesn’t threaten to fire him for the week of missed work.
He doesn’t even have to think about it when he finally does boot his computer up, tapping out the name almost before the page has finished loading. He’s not sure what he’s expecting, but he does know that’s it not for the third link down the page to be to Sheppard’s Flying School. He hovers the cursor over the link, watching it turn into a pointing finger, thinking it can’t be the Sheppard he knows. Sure, Sheppard and flying, but neither John nor Sheppard are uncommon names, and it’s not *that* unlikely for one of the not-his-Sheppard’s to like to fly, or to be making a living at it.
He’s still not surprised when he clicks the link and the homepage shows, amongst other things, a tiny picture of a man who is unmistakably the John Sheppard he knows. Knew.
That was easier than he expected.
He keeps going through the site (and Sheppard must be pretty good, his fees at what Cam would consider the high end), buoyed up by the knowledge that Sheppard hasn’t somehow managed to get himself killed in the absence of Atlantis. He discovers that Sheppard teaches people to fly Cessna C152s, because Sheppard’s apparently a traditionalist when it comes to training aircraft, that he has a partner in the endeavor called Joseph Robinson and that a woman named Maggie takes care of bookings, not just for flying lessons, but also for flights over the city and short range charters.
And that they’re based less than an hour from where Cam’s living.
The thing is, Cam’s pretty sure that, although they talked about Atlantis, none of them talked about John – their interrogators were mostly more interested in where they’d been and threats to Earth. And he was told not to contact Sam or Jackson, but they never mentioned anyone else. It wouldn’t be that weird for him to want to get back to flying, and he doesn’t have his pilot’s license any more…
And that’s about the point where he accepts that he’s rationalized himself right into driving out there, and he might as well quit while he’s ahead.
Cam drives out the next weekend in the five year old Volvo he grudgingly bought when it became obvious that, even substituting his allowance by working for a local mechanic, there was no way he’d be replacing his Mustang. Sheppard’s place isn’t that far out of town, a tiny air strip with a metal hanger and a small wooden hut that must be the office, half a dozen assorted cars pulled up against it. There’s a plane at the far end of the runway, not going anywhere, no sign of the other. It occurs to Cam then that Sheppard could be in the middle of a lesson, and he has no excuse whatsoever for wanting to see him.
“Nothing ventured, nothing gained,” he tells himself, and parks next to a shiny black Porsche that he really hopes isn’t Sheppard’s.
Turns out his luck’s in, for the first time in what feels like years – when he taps on the open office door, the guy who turns around from the filing cabinet is Sheppard. He smiles, polite and friendly, and Cam finds himself smiling back without conscious thought. It feels so good to see a familiar face, even if the face is only familiar to him and Sheppard has no idea who he is. “Help you?” Sheppard asks.
“Yeah,” Cam says, his voice cracking weirdly on the word. He clears his throat, gives Sheppard a wry smile, and tries again. “Yeah, I, er –“
It’s possible he should have rehearsed his story a little better before coming out here, because it’s only occurring to him now that he has no idea what to say.
Sheppard frowns, nudging the drawer closed with one shoulder and stepping out from behind the desk, not quite close enough to touch Cam. He’s wearing jeans and a thick gray jumper, and he looks about a thousand times more relaxed than he ever looked when Cam used to see him around the Mountain. “Are you all right?” he asks, sounding worried, and also a little like he might be thinking of calling the police to get Cam chased off his property.
Since that will almost certainly get Cam tossed in some military prison, he pulls it together. “Sorry. You reminded me of someone I used to know. Threw me for a second.”
“No problem,” Sheppard says, though he doesn’t look much more relaxed. He smiles anyway, and, just for a second, Cam would swear he’s being flirted with. “Sure I’m not him?”
“Pretty sure,” Cam says, when what he really wants to say is, not even a little bit, because this Sheppard is so much like the Sheppard he used to know that he actually has to work not to ask if Sheppard misses Atlantis.
“Okay, well, in that case, I’m John Sheppard, I run this place.” Sheppard steps forward, one hand out to shake, and Cam swallows the I know on the back of his tongue.
“Cam Mitchell.” He takes the offered hand, Sheppard’s grip warm and firm, lingering a moment longer than it should.
“Nice to meet you, Cam Mitchell. You’re here about a lesson?” He half-turns back to the neat desk, reaching for a red book. “Maggie’s off for the week, but I’m sure I can find an empty slot –“
“Actually, no,” Cam interrupts. He’s not sure he can fake knowing nothing about how to fly, especially for Sheppard, who’s always been pretty sharp, and explaining how he knows is just going to get complicated when he’s finding it hard to remember that they don’t have any of the shared history that they should. “Your website mentioned you do sight-seeing flights.”
“And you want to book one?” Sheppard asks, sounding dubious. He must hear his own tone of voice because he smiles awkwardly. “Sorry, you’re just – not our usual clientele for that kind of thing.”
Cam remembers the cars parked outside and thinks that isn’t a surprise. “I’m new in town,” he says. “Want to get the lay of the land a bit.”
Sheppard nods like that makes perfect sense. “Come in back, I’ve got a map somewhere. And coffee.”
“Coffee’s good,” Cam agrees, and doesn’t think about how Sheppard’s smile is more of a draw than anything else here.
An hour and a half later, he leaves with an appointment to go back in the late afternoon the next Saturday for an hour’s flying over the city with Sheppard. He’s pretty much useless for the rest of the week, suffering through endless ribbing from the guys he works with about the woman he lets them assume he’s met. He can’t decide if he’s looking forward to the flying, or to being with Sheppard again, or if he’s actually more freaked out about the whole thing than he is looking forward to it. Add to that the way he can’t stop worrying that someone from the Air Force knows that he’s met up with Sheppard and somehow knows who Sheppard is, and will come arrest the both of them, and, yeah. Pretty much a wreck. His boss doesn’t let him do anything more complicated than change oil and run basic checks all week.
Sheppard’s waiting when he pulls up outside the office, leaning back against the hut with his sunglasses on, one knee bent, foot resting against the wooden wall. He looks really good, and Cam wonders, again, what the hell he was thinking when he started this. He should turn around and go the hell home, make some friends who don’t remind him of the world he should be living in, except Sheppard’s already pushed off the wall, walking over to meet him, and it would be rude to leave. Cam’s momma didn’t raise her boys to be rude, and he has to swallow against the lump that rises in his throat. He’s still not sure that he doesn’t want to look her up.
“This is what you drive?” Sheppard asks, amused, leaning in the open window of Cam’s car.
Cam feels himself flush, which is actually more embarrassing than being mocked for his car. He looks round for the black Porsche, doesn’t see it, thank God. “Yeah, well…” he says weakly.
Sheppard grins. “Good comeback. Come on, my ride’s a hell of a lot cooler than yours.”
Cam can’t really argue with that, even if the little Cessna is nowhere near as cool as some of the things they’ve both flown. It doesn’t matter when they’re taking off, the ground falling away beneath them, Sheppard’s hands sure and certain on the controls. Cam takes a deep breath, then a couple more, curling his hands into fists on his knees, afraid that they’ll start shaking otherwise.
“You okay?” Sheppard asks, glancing across at him.
Cam nods, not trusting his voice. This was a bad idea: of all the things he misses, flying wasn’t one of them until now, a rush of memories so strong he feels like he’s choking. He can’t believe this is his life now, that less than a year ago he was saving the galaxy and now he’s living the kind of suburban life he never wanted.
He turns his head, looking out the window at the blurred landscape beneath him. He planned out the flight path with Sheppard, but he has no idea where they are or what he’s looking at.
“We can go back down,” Sheppard says. “Just say the word.”
Cam shakes his head. He aches with loneliness, but he doesn’t want to be away from Sheppard. “I’m fine,” he says, betrayed exactly as badly by his voice as he was expecting to be. “Sorry.”
“You scared of heights?” Sheppard asks, apparently happy to ignore the way Cam sounds like he’s about to burst into tears. That’s definitely Sheppard.
“Just having a bad day, huh?” Sheppard asks, his voice warm and understanding. Cam reminds himself that even if this Sheppard doesn’t have the horrors of Atlantis in his head, he’s got plenty of bad history to make him understand.
“Something like that,” Cam agrees, still looking firmly away from Sheppard, and they make the rest of the flight in wordless silence.
Cam feels a little more together when they land, enough to risk looking at Sheppard as they taxi back towards the hanger. “Sorry,” he says again.
Sheppard shrugs. “The last person I took up cried through the whole flight,” he says, sounding deeply uncomfortable. Cam can get behind that. “So, you know…” He shrugs again, the little plane finally coming to a halt.
Cam watches Sheppard power everything down, run his final post-flight checks. Sheppard does things in pretty much the exact same order as Cam does – Air Force training bred deep into both of them – and Cam has to stop himself from reaching out when Sheppard bypasses a switch where Cam would have flipped it, then goes back to it.
“Well,” Sheppard says eventually, going through keys to find the right one for the huge padlock on the hanger door. “That’s me done for the day. You heading back into town?”
Cam nods, looking round the little airfield and realizing that it really is empty. He checks his watch, finds they must have been up for longer than their scheduled hour.
“Want to get a beer?” Sheppard asks, not looking at him. “There’s a bar round the corner from my place, serves a bunch of different micro-brews.”
Cam thinks, He’s asking me out, and the twenty-years-in-the-Air-Force part of his brain instinctively goes toward refusing, because he can – and does, did – sleep with men, but he can’t date them, too risky.
And then the rest of his brain catches up, reminds him that there’s no risk now, because the Air Force couldn’t give a damn who he sleeps with. He doesn’t belong to them any more.
Sheppard shuffles his feet, fiddles with the keys in his hand. “Or, hey, you’re probably – I mean, you probably have plans, right, and we don’t –“
“No,” Cam says quickly, cutting him off before Sheppard can talk himself out of it, talk himself out of thinking Cam might want to say yes. It feels unfair, because Sheppard doesn’t have what Cam has, the faint ping of his gaydar that the real Sheppard gave him and he never acted on. “No, I don’t have plans. I don’t really know anyone.” Sheppard looks up, and Cam realizes he should have said in town, but it’s the truth, and it’ll sound worse to correct it. “And, yeah, to the beer.”
“Okay.” Sheppard smiles, shy and pleased. “Okay, so, good. You want to follow me?”
Watching Sheppard’s headlights in front of him, Cam tells himself that this is a bad idea, that he should turn off and go home, and, sure, Sheppard has his address, but Sheppard’s not the kind of person to come looking for him, demand to know what the hell he’s playing at. He tells himself it’s a good idea, that this is his world now, and he needs to start acting like it, not like he’s playing at this life, waiting to be rescued. There’s no-one left to rescue him. He tells himself that he could have gone to see Lam, or Major Davies, could have come up with a reason to write to some of his old 302 squad, and he didn’t. He came to Sheppard, and it’s more than Sheppard being close, or him having a ready-made excuse, one that he didn’t even use in the end.
He wishes, hard, for Sam or Teal’c, or even Vala, someone who’d tell him he’s being an idiot, and then tell him which part is idiotic.
He still pulls up behind Sheppard when Sheppard stops outside a small bar, and makes sure he’s out of the car before Sheppard.
Sheppard says, “I’m buying,” a couple of times, and, “So, there’s not…” and, finally, “You want to get out of here?”
Cam’s drunk just enough to say yes.
Sheppard’s apartment isn’t what he expects, another reminder that this isn’t the Sheppard he knew. Not that he could say why he doesn’t expect the high ceilings, the huge windows, the open plan rooms. There’s just something about Sheppard that’s always made Cam think he’d want walls around him, something to keep him safe when he’s on the ground.
“Home sweet home,” Sheppard says, mocking himself; shrugs out of his jacket, toes off his shoes, then comes back to where Cam’s still standing just inside the closed door and runs one hand up Cam’s arm until he reaches the short sleeve of his shirt. “This okay?”
Cam wants to say no, because it’s not, none of this is, because he’s pretending and it isn’t fair, and he doesn’t want to be. Except Sheppard’s familiar, and the dull, constant ache of homesickness isn’t quite so bad around him. Or maybe it’s worse, Cam can’t tell any more, but he knows he doesn’t want to leave. “Yeah,” he says, and lets Sheppard pull him in to kiss him, warm and slow and tasting of a beer he’s never drunk anywhere but here.
Cam knows all the stereotypes of closeted, military hook-ups, frantic, adrenalin-driven one-night stands, and he’s had his share of those. He knows how to look for people who want something a bit more as well, some kind of connection, however fleeting. It’s part of why he never tried with Sheppard, because Sheppard had all the connection he could handle with Atlantis, and there was none to spare for anyone else.
This Sheppard has plenty to spare, more than Cam feels entirely safe with, but it feels good and he already said yes, hasn’t changed his mind. They kiss for what feels like forever on Sheppard’s carefully made bed, curtains wide open, four floors up and away from anyone who might look in, and when it finally goes further, it’s no less easy and slow, coming like the one time Cam went gliding, a long-drawn out slide on warm air currents.
After, Sheppard drags the comforter up over both of them where they’re lying side by side, looking up at the dim shadow. Cam takes it as permission to stay, and falls asleep almost immediately, the first time he’s managed that since he got here.
Cam wakes up when Sheppard flings the covers back, letting in cool air, and it’s barely light. He groans, hears Sheppard laugh somewhere away to the side. “Not a morning person, huh?”
“It’s Sunday,” Cam protests. The truth is, he’ll be up in an hour regardless, years of church on Sunday mornings as a kid more effective than any alarm clock he’s ever found, even if he hardly ever goes now.
“No rest for the wicked,” Sheppard says, much closer. Cam pries his own eyes open again to find Sheppard, wearing nothing but a pair of faded boxers, sitting on the edge of the bed, watching him with an unreadable expression. “Well, not unless I want the place to fold within its first five years.” His face twists oddly, no more readable than it was before.
Cam scrabbles for something reassuring to say, but nothing comes to mind. Sheppard shrugs like it couldn’t matter less, and leans in for a kiss, morning breath and stubble. “I gotta get going, I’ll be late, but help yourself to breakfast. The door’ll lock behind you, just pull it firmly.”
Cam can’t help where his mind goes, telegraphing it with one raised eyebrow, and Sheppard rolls his eyes, ducks his head, laughing a little. “I can’t believe I slept with someone with such a terrible sense of humor,” he says, but he kisses Cam again anyway.
Cam figures that’s that, one night stand and they won’t see each other again, but Sheppard calls a couple of days later, invites him over for dinner. And then it’d be rude for Cam not to make the next offer, so they go see a movie.
John doesn’t talk much about his past, and Cam doesn’t ask, not wanting to have to answer questions in return. His life here has all the documentation to back it up, a history that mostly makes sense for a mechanic with a big house in the suburbs, but he’s not comfortable with it yet. It reminds him too strongly of covering for what he was really doing with the SGC, even if it’s nothing like that, makes this feel too much like a mission that will end. He knows he needs to stop that, but he hasn’t figured out how yet. He’s not at all sure he ever will.
It doesn’t seem fair to google John to find out more about him, so he’s stuck with the little bits that John does give up, the assumptions he can safely make. He still slips, mentions something that he shouldn’t know, and he knows John’s picking up on it, even if he doesn’t say anything.
It means he has even less of an excuse when he slips badly. They’re lying in bed together, early one Sunday morning when John doesn’t have to go to work, John’s head on his shoulder, drifting, not really talking about anything, John murmuring vaguely about wanting to expand, get a helicopter because he misses flying them. “I could teach you,” he says, and Cam, unthinking, says, “Air Force already did.”
He feels John go tense against him before he realizes what he’s said, and then John’s pushing himself up on one elbow to peer down into Cam’s face. “What?” he says.
Cam blinks, thinks about playing dumb, realizes he’s left it too long already.
“You were in the Air Force?” John repeats, frowning, and this, this is bad, because faking an Air Force career is just not that easily done, and so they didn’t. There is no Cam Mitchell who was in the Air Force in this universe, just a John Sheppard who was. “When?”
“A different life-time,” Cam says honestly. That’s not what hurts. Saying, “You didn’t know me then,” is what hurts.
“I know,” John says, sounding like he’s fumbling for words. Cam doesn’t blame him – the flying school website says that both John and Robinson are ex-USAF pilots, so John has to know Cam knows, and it’s weird for him not to have said. “Were you – did you –“
Except nowhere on the site does it say what Cam is sure must be true, that this John, like the one who went to Atlantis, disobeyed orders and got sent to Antarctica for it, but didn’t have Atlantis to save him, and must have left in near disgrace when his two years in Antarctica were up, never knowing what was under his feet the whole time. Which means John knows, from the inside, all the ways an Air Force career can come to an end, and knows that there are things you don’t want to talk about, or can’t.
Cam wants to, though, so badly, to tell John that he remembers flying, he remembers how it felt to put on his uniform for the first time, how it felt to be promoted, accepted, how it felt to go down in a free-fall crash and think it was the end, how it felt to get up and go on, and how he wonders sometimes if he can do it again. If this is what going on means now, if he’s got the strength left to do it again. And he can’t say this, any of this, not even with John looking at him, worried and concerned, knowing there’s something that isn’t right.
“It was a long time ago,” he says again. “It didn’t end well.”
John doesn’t say anything, just rests his head back on Cam’s shoulder, not looking at him. Cam thinks that’s it, subject dropped, except John reaches for his hand, clasps it hard in his own, and says, “I know what that feels like,” and Cam knows it’s true.
Cam doesn’t mean to buy a new car, as much as John still mocks him for the one he does have, but the Volvo refuses to start, making him late for work, the same day that someone brings by a Mustang in serious need of repair before the owner can sell it. It’s only a couple of years older than Cam’s is – was – and, okay, it’s yellow, but nothing’s perfect, and the owner’s happy enough for Cam to take it off his hands at a reduced price, save him the trouble of selling it.
He swings by the flying school after work that evening, secure in the knowledge that John is a complete workaholic. Cam may not know all that much about him, considering they’ve been sleeping together for going on six months, but he does know that all of the other Sheppard’s obsession with Atlantis and keeping his people alive has been channeled into keeping this place running and solidly in the black.
The office door’s open, and Cam leans in, knocking on the frame. “Hey, Maggie.”
She starts, breaking off her freakishly fast touch-typing – John says she’s been working for them since the place started, and nothing at all about why a twenty-something woman whose hair is almost never a color seen in nature is working as an office manager for a tiny flying school. She’s got red, green and blue stripes today, and Cam can’t decide if it looks great or terrible. He does know it reminds him of his oldest niece, just old enough to start doing weird things to her hair to mess with her dad’s mind.
“Hi,” she says, smiling shyly. Cam smiles back, trying to make her relax a little, not that it’s ever worked when it’s just him. She’s a different person when John or Joseph is there as well. “You looking for John?”
“Guess it’s too much to hope he’s not got a late client?” Cam asks.
Maggie smiles slightly. “Actually, Joseph took her up.” She raises one eyebrow and laughs. “I think John’s out in the hanger.”
“One day, I’m going to catch him reading bedtime stories to that plane,” Cam says dryly, but they both know it’s a little true.
“I think I’m more of a lullaby person,” John says from behind him. He rests a hand on Cam’s hip for a moment, moving him gently out of the way, and grins as he walks past him into the office. “Don’t tell me – you’re here to bribe me into taking you up for an hour?”
They don’t talk about the way Cam slipped up and mentioned a career he’s not supposed to have, but John’s been dropping more and more hints about Cam doing some flying. Cam pretends not to notice. “Came to see if you wanted to come over for dinner.”
“I –“ John stops, sheaf of papers half held out to Maggie, who gives him a second then sighs and snatches them from his hand. John doesn’t seem to notice. “Really?”
“Sure,” Cam says. “Unless you’ve got other plans.”
“No. No, it’s just – I don’t think I even know where you live.”
“It’s on the billing form for his flight,” Maggie tells him helpfully. John’s not paying her any more attention that he was before, watching Cam with a complicated expression on his face. She rolls her eyes. “I’m going in back to fax the stationery order, give you guys some privacy for the big relationship talk.”
John actually turns then, watching her walk out, frowning. “Some days, I have no idea why we hired her.” He shakes it off, turning back to Cam. “Sorry. I’d love to come for dinner. Um. If you still want me to.”
Cam nods, even though, now he’s thinking about it, he’s not at all sure it’s a good idea. Too late now to take it back without it meaning way more than he intended. “You want to follow me?”
John nods, still looking vaguely worried. “Let me just –“
“Go already,” Maggie calls back. A moment later, her head appears round the door. “Seriously – Joseph’s going to lock up, leave already so I can go home.”
“I thought I was in charge here,” John says, already stepping behind the desk to collect his jacket and keys.
Maggie shakes her head. “That’s just what I let the two of you think,” she says.
“Okay,” John says. “Hey, whose is that car? New client?”
Maggie gives the office an exaggerated once-over that makes Cam smile. “Yes,” she says solemnly. “But I didn’t like him, so I killed him and hid him in the bottom drawer of the filing cabinet.”
John shrugs. “Fair enough. Make sure you get rid of him before he starts to smell, okay?”
“Yes, boss,” Maggie says sweetly, and ducks back into the other room.
John catches a clue pretty quickly when he realizes Cam’s Volvo isn’t there. “It’s yellow,” he says, running one hand over the hood.
“Better than gray,” Cam points out.
John tilts his head to one side in agreement, walks slowly round the car. He’s smiling when he gets back to where Cam’s waiting, keys in hand, and Cam thinks, I don’t know what I’d do without you here. “Okay,” John says. “You can bring me back here in the morning. Take me for a ride.”
The sun’s nearly set when they finally get back to Cam’s place, and Ryan, the kid from next door, is out on the drive, shooting hoops badly. He scoops the ball up when Cam turns into the driveway, and steps back onto the grass where it’s safe, only to come running over as soon as Cam turns off the engine. Among the many things the car needs are new shock absorbers, so it’s been a rattly ride.
“Hey, Mr. Mitchell,” Ryan says, leaning in the open window. Cam opens the door slowly, waiting for Ryan to step back, and tries not to look at John, who hasn’t moved yet. “What happened to your car?”
Cam shrugs. “I liked this one better. What do you think?”
Ryan gives the car a considering look. “It’s yellow.”
“That’s what everyone says,” Cam tells him sadly. It’s kind of growing on him, so he figures he’ll have to get used to hearing that.
The front door of Ryan’s house opens, and Mrs. Anderson steps onto the porch. “Ryan? Oh, hey, Cam.”
Cam winces. Mrs. Anderson seems like a perfectly nice woman, but he’s pretty sure she thinks he seems like a perfectly nice potential second husband and – yeah. Not so much. “Hey. Ryan was giving me his opinion on my new wheels.”
She wanders over, puts an arm round Ryan’s shoulders. “I like it,” she says contemplatively.
“What about the color, mom?” Ryan asks, grinning at Cam.
“I –“ she starts, and John chooses that moment to step out. He looks a little shell-shocked, but Cam thinks he’s the only one who’ll notice. “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t realize you had someone with you.”
“Mrs. Anderson, Ryan, this is John.”
John smiles, reaches out to shake her hand, then Ryan’s. “Pleasure to meet you,” he says.
“You too,” Mrs. Anderson says, looking a little unsure. “It’s Heather, though. I keep telling Cam.”
Cam makes a vaguely self-deprecating gesture – poor memory, what can you do?
“Heather,” John repeats, and they all look at each other in silence for a moment before Mrs. Anderson pulls up another polite smile and asks, “Are you a friend of Cam’s from work?”
“Nope,” John says brightly. He shifts slightly, till his side’s pressed against Cam’s, and Mrs. Anderson’s eyebrows go up. That’s one way to solve that problem, Cam supposes. “We’d love to stay and chat, but he’s promised me dinner, so –“
“No, of course.” Mrs. Anderson waves them towards the house. “Don’t let me keep you. It was nice to meet you, John. Nice car, Cam.”
John stays where he is till their front door closes again, then turns slightly, resting his forehead on Cam’s shoulder so Cam can feel him shaking with suppressed laughter. “Fuck, sorry.”
Cam half-hugs him. “No sweat. Feel free to out me to all my neighbors.”
“What can I say?” John leans back, eyes still bright with humor. “I couldn’t take the competition.”
Cam rolls his eyes. “Get in the damn house.”
John’s amusement fades quickly when they walk into Cam’s house. He drifts along behind Cam, trailing his fingertips over the back of the floral couch that Cam’s been meaning to get reupholstered, or at least toss a blanket over, looking intently at the prints on the wall. Cam realizes he’s stopped noticing how generic everything in this house is, how much it’s a place he’s staying, not a place he lives. It’s entirely possible that this is the reason he’s never invited John back before, and he wonders how much he’s going to regret deciding to.
“It’s bigger than I was expecting,” John says eventually.
“My parents –“ Cam starts, and can’t finish the lie about having been left the house. It still won’t explain the way there’s nothing of him in it, or how there aren’t any photos of his family.
John steps up behind him, one hand at the small of his back, too warm through his t-shirt. “My inheritance from my father is going to buy the helicopter,” he says quietly. “It’s still going through the lawyers, my brother thought I’d been written out, but I guess…”
He trails off, and they watch the rest of the color fade from the sky in silence.
Cam wakes up at some indeterminate time of the night to a sudden awareness of being watched. He’s had years of practice at waking up without giving it away, and after a moment, John’s hand comes down lightly on his forehead, stroking his hair back. “You don’t have to tell me the truth,” he says, barely above a whisper. Cam can’t tell if John knows he’s awake, suspects he does. He keeps his eyes closed, afraid of what he’ll see if he opens them. Of what John might see.
“It wouldn’t –“John starts. “I’d still…” He sighs, goes silent for long enough that Cam thinks that’s it. He’s just drifting away again when John says, very close to his ear, “I’m not going anywhere.”
The thing is, Cam knows John’s not stupid, and he knows that he hasn’t been anywhere near as careful as he should have been. It’s not like John’s going to figure out that he comes from another reality, or that he got transported to this one by an alien with dreams of power, but… But.
He should never have contacted John, should never have slept with him, and sure as hell shouldn’t have kept on doing it. But he did, and he has, and it’s the one good thing he has now, paid for with everything he ever wanted, and he won’t give it up.
He tries not to think about Sam and Jackson, tries not to wonder if they’re as alone as he was, or if they’re managing to build some kind of life out of what’s left. He wants to look them up, just look for some sign of them, but he’s embarrassed to realize he doesn’t know what their cover names are here, Sam at least being reasonably recognizable for all that this universe’s version of her is dead.
Not that it matters – he can’t contact them, which is what he really wants. A chance to call up Sam and say, What does it mean that some days I forget I don’t belong here? Does that mean it’s getting better? A chance to sit with Jackson over coffee and ask, What happens when Ba’al shows up? What do you think he’s planning? Do you think he knows we’re here?
He’s not going to get that though, and there’s a tiny part of his brain that says he’s got an alternative. It’s not like John would tell anyone – it’d make John sound as crazy as he’d probably think Cam is.
And that’s the problem, right there.
So Cam says nothing, and though John will sometimes come over to work on the car with him, they never spend the night at Cam’s place again. It’s too much a sign of the secrets they both know Cam won’t talk about.
He doesn’t know when he first starts thinking about it. The idea just sinks into his head, until it might as well have always been there, kicking around in the back of his mind, where he’s not sure if it hurts or not.
John notices, of course. Cam doesn’t remember him being this perceptive before.
“You gonna tell me what’s bugging you?”
Or this direct, just asking one rare Saturday morning that he’s not at the flight school, while Cam’s stretched out under the car, watching John’s feet shuffle.
Cam shrugs, even though John can’t see it. “Thinking of taking a road trip,” he says.
John’s feet still. “Yeah?”
“Yeah.” Cam closes his eyes. “There’s a farm I used to stay at when I was a kid. I was thinking of driving down there, give the car a good run.”
“Where?” John asks, not saying anything about how Cam’s voice has gone weird, too high. He wonders if John even wonders about the secret now, or if it’s just a part of his daily landscape, if he knows that this too is mostly a lie.
“Kansas,” Cam says, and John whistles. It’ll be a couple of days’ journey, easily. “I figured I need another month or so to get this properly fit for the drive,” he adds. Another month and he’ll have been here a year. He’s trying not to read into that, into how much he needs to see for himself that his home really isn’t any more.
“Yeah,” John says idly. Cam opens his eyes and John still isn’t moving.
“You could come with me,” he suggests quietly. He’s far from sure it’s a good idea, but he wants John there with him. Or at least, he’s pretty sure he does. Sure enough not to want to be looking at John if John is going to say no.
“I could,” John agrees noncommittally.
Cam waits, but he doesn’t say anything else. “I guess you’ve got students,” he offers, trying to give John an out.
“I do, but I could rearrange. A week, right?”
John’s feet shift on the edge of Cam’s vision, and then he sits down, leans back against the car and reaches under, just far enough to touch Cam’s knee. Cam shudders.
“What the hell?” John says. “I haven’t been on a road trip since college.”
Cam laughs, shaky with relief, and reaches down to hold John’s hand tightly.
The first day even feels like a road trip in college, arguing over music, windows open even though it’s really too cold, stopping for food in half-empty roadside diners. They’d said they’d stop for the night, but once they’re moving, Cam doesn’t want to, and John doesn’t object when he vetoes a half dozen motels, just offers to switch off driving for a while.
Cam thinks about John and the money for his helicopter that’s still tied up with lawyers; his father can’t have been dead long, hadn’t been in Cam’s world, where the funeral came along with human-form replicators that the SGC buzzed with for three days before someone else tried to take over Earth and they all got distracted. He thinks that John maybe kind of understands this trip, as much as he can when Cam barely understands it himself.
They stop for coffee and apple pie at a roadside diner as the sun’s setting, and John takes over driving when they leave. They’re on quiet country roads, nothing but darkness outside the circle of the headlights, and Cam doesn’t mean to fall asleep. That doesn’t stop him from dozing, vaguely aware of John turning the music down until it’s barely audible on the edge of consciousness.
He doesn’t exactly dream, but he doesn’t exactly not either, a confusing tumble of priors, the crash, the Sodan, missions with his team, Dakara, Sam’s lab, Jackson’s office, late nights in Vala’s quarters when Jackson was missing.
He comes awake with a gasp, startled by something he can’t pin down, and John says, “It’s okay,” softly.
Cam rubs his eyes, trying to wake up. He feels more lost than he has since the first few days he was here, when he woke up completely disoriented every morning. “I don’t come from here,” he says, not realizing he meant to confess until he heard himself saying the words.
John doesn’t say anything, just watches the road go by beneath their wheels.
“There’s a device, at the bottom of the Atlantic ocean. It’s called a stargate, it was built thousands of years ago by a race called the Ancients. It’s used for travelling between different planets in an artificial, stable wormhole.” He’s started the story in the wrong place, maybe, and has to backtrack. “I was in the Air Force, like I told you. It’s a long story, but I ended up working for something called Stargate Command. They ran the stargate program, sending teams through the gate to other populated worlds.”
He risks a glance at John, but it’s too dark to read his face. “There’s a race called the Goa’uld, they’re basically the bad guys. Galactic domination and all that. They look human, but they have snakes inside them, controlling them. One of them is called Ba’al. Nearly a year ago, my team went to witness the ceremony to free his human host from the snake.”
He’s never realized before just how ridiculous his life sounds. He’ll be lucky if John doesn’t throw him out of the car, even if it is his car. He wouldn’t believe himself either, in John’s place. “He had some kind of device, it changed the timeline, so the ship that was carrying the gate sank. It created this timeline, and brought me and two other members of my team here.”
John still doesn’t say anything, and Cam finds himself talking again without meaning to. “My grandfather was on that ship. He drowned when it was destroyed, so my father never existed. I never existed here. The Air Force created histories for the three of us, gave us somewhere to live…” He trails off, runs one hand over his face, a little unnerved to realize it’s shaking. “Can you – can we stop?”
Johns nods jerkily, coasting the car to a stop at the side of the road. He leaves the key in the ignition, the lights on. Cam gets out, walks a little away to stare at the dark field. He feels like he might throw up, or maybe start crying.
He listens to the engine cool for a while, and eventually John gets out of the car and comes to stand by him. Not as close as he usually does, and Cam shivers, frozen with knowing that this would probably happen. He wonders if the Air Force will help him find somewhere new to live, start over – again –or if they’ll want to know why.
“I’m not crazy,” he says, though he knows that the way he told it, the bits he missed out, make him sound even crazier than the story does anyway.
“I know,” John says. He sighs. “I just – aliens and gates to other planets, and you’re from another *universe*…”
“Another timeline,” Cam corrects. He’s pretty sure it doesn’t make any difference.
“Another timeline, right.”
The silence feels like it’s going to swallow Cam up, suck the life out of him until there’ll be nothing left but a desiccated corpse in the middle of a field. “Say you believe me,” he says, too intense, his voice cracking on the words.
There’s a long pause, then John says, “I believe you believe it.”
It feels like being slapped, like the time he got flung into a wall by Khalek, and Cam takes a stumbling step away, reaching for something to balance against that isn’t there.
“Cam,” John says, reaching for him.
Cam shakes his head. He wants to be anywhere else but here. “You said -.” I’m not going anywhere.
“Cam,” John says again. His face, in the beam of the headlights, is broken, like he’s hurting as badly as Cam right now. “You have to admit, it’s a lot to just…”
Cam presses his hands over his eyes, and thinks that he’s never wanted his dad as badly as he does right now. He’d give *anything* for things to be different. “Say you believe me,” he says again, begging.
“I want to,” John says, one hand a barely there touch on Cam’s shoulder. Cam breathes out, leaning into him, and tries to let that be enough.
They don’t talk about it at all for the rest of the trip, like it never happened. Cam can’t stop thinking about it, all the things that he wants to tell John, about Ba’al and how he’s out there, somewhere, plotting to destroy Earth; about SG1 and how much it hurts to be without them, so much that he barely notices the pain any more; about going through the stargate, about Atlantis and the ATA gene, and how John should be the hero of an Ancient city, not tossed out of the Air Force for disobeying orders.
When he gets the chance, it’s not in any kind of way he’d have wanted.