John hovers, a couple of feet out of Cam’s personal space bubble, and it doesn’t matter, because he can feel John’s eyes on him as he walks through his parents’ house, like John’s waiting for him to crack up. Cam feels like he’s waiting for himself to crack up as well, feels like this should be the tipping point, a year on, in a home that’s not his any more.
Instead, he gets Mr. Lockwood’s voice from the front room. “Boys. You should see this.”
John smiles a little, mouthing boys? at Cam, who can’t quite make himself smile back. It’s too familiar.
And then he doesn’t want to smile at all, because there are scout ships on the TV screen, being followed by F-16s, and that means there are al’kesh in orbit, and that has to mean Ba’al is there, or coming.
John makes a startled, strangled noise next to him. “Fuck,” he says, very softly, then, “Uh, sorry, sir.”
Mr. Lockwood huffs out a laugh. “Just saying what I was thinking, son.”
“It’s actually real,” John says. Cam glances over at him. He’s watching Cam with an intent, unreadable expression.
“Yeah,” Cam says, and tries not to notice the way his own hands are shaking when he pulls out his cell, calls up the Air Force to say I told you so, because he shouldn’t be happy about this, about the end of the world coming all over again, but he can’t help the tiny part of him that goes weak with relief at the thought of seeing Sam and Jackson again.
John comes along when the airman dispatched to pick Cam up shows up; Cam thinks this is mainly because no-one thinks to ask if he should until they’re already on the road, and Cam’s not going to say no. He knows how it feels to know and be unable to do anything.
One of the many things he appreciates about John is how fast he moves past surprise, or just puts it aside, and this time is no exception. He says, “alien spaceships,” a couple of times, sounding wondrous and a little freaked out, and, “where are we going again?” and that’s it. All the rest is reasonable questions about what they’re going to do, and where the spaceships came from, and other stuff that Cam doesn’t have the answers to.
When the car finally stops, the first thing Cam sees is Sam, dressed in civvies, hair loose, wearing new glasses, and he’s frozen for a long moment, something inside him splintering open with overwhelming relief.
Then John pokes him sharply in his thigh and says, “I thought you were going to save the world,” and it’s so normal Cam can’t help laughing.
He still hugs Sam to him, way too tight, then Jackson as well when he spots him, leaning back against the wall. Jackson makes a surprised noise against Cam’s chest, but he returns the hug willingly enough, and Cam figures he’s missed them as much as Cam has. It’s only when the two of them break apart that he catches the sly look on Sam’s face, one that isn’t directed at him.
John’s hanging back by the car, looking more uncomfortable than Cam’s ever seen him, in either reality. This is going to be a little awkward, though probably no more awkward than being introduced to the stargate program by activating an Ancient control chair. It’s a pity this John hasn’t actually gone through that.
“John, these are the two people I –“ He stops, realizing that there are a lot of people here who shouldn’t know that he told John the truth. Although, it’s possibly too late to worry about that, since John’s here. He clears his throat. “This is Dr Daniel Jackson, and this is Colonel Samantha Carter.”
“Yeah, I –“ John blinks, laughs a little. “Sorry, it’s just…”
“You thought I was a dead astronaut,” Sam fills in wryly, and John shrugs, looking sheepish. Cam can’t help the questioning look he gives John, though he doesn’t know why he’s surprised to learn that John’s interested enough in space flight to recognize a woman out of context years after her death was in the news.
A young man in a suit is hovering, looking half a step from just grabbing one of them by the elbow and dragging them away. “President Hayes is waiting,” he says into the moment of silence.
“Well, we wouldn’t want to keep President Hayes waiting,” Jackson says, and Cam doesn’t care that the world could be about to end, he can’t stop grinning.
John steps close to him as they walk through the command center, like he’s just realized what Cam has, which is that John has no reason to be there at all, and it can only be a matter of time before someone throws him out. “Do they know me?” he asks, low-voiced. “In your timeline?”
“Yeah,” Cam says, wishing he’d told John some of his own history with the stargate program. It’ll have to come after they save the world. “You work for the SGC as well.”
“With you?” John frowns, and Cam wonders if he’s thinking of the same thing Cam is, the day Cam showed up in his office and said, you look like someone I used to know.
“Not even close,” Cam tells him.
“In a whole other galaxy, actually,” Jackson says, and the look he’s giving Cam is knowing and smug. Cam just knows he’s going to be hearing about this for months to come, possibly years. He really can’t feel bad about that.
John looks like he’s about to ask another question, but he doesn’t get the chance, because they’re walking into the command bunker, and President Hayes is too busy talking over any catching up they might have done, telling them to help or get out. Cam doesn’t blame Jackson for wanting to take up door number 2, after a year of being shut out until they’re needed again, but the truth is, they’re needed, and they’ve none of them ever been able to say no to that.
Hayes looks revoltingly smug as he talks about the second stargate, under the ice, about building a facility down in McMurdo. Cam’s glad for Jackson’s anger and betrayal, the way it covers his own instinctive shudder at the mention of Antarctica, a place that’s never going to have anything but bad memories. He feels John go tense next to him, remembers that this John spent two years down there, finishing out his career, and probably doesn’t think back on it all that fondly either.
Hayes is still rambling on about how the base is nearly operational, and how, in another timeline, he handled a similar problem (the self-congratulation clearly implied), and it’s not until Sam says, “Well, to be fair, it was actually the Ancient weapons platform in Antarctica that saved us,” that Cam really starts paying proper attention to the conversation again.
“Exactly,” Hayes says, like he’s one step from giving Sam a gold star and calling her a good girl. “Shouldn’t it still be there?”
“It’s under a mile of ice,” Sam points out before Cam can.
“The army corps of engineers have been drilling at the coordinates you gave us for the last three months,” Hayes says. “We’re not quite there yet, but we’re close.”
“Even so, its power source is almost depleted,” Sam says. “We’d need a fully charged zero point module.”
“Teanos,” Jackson says, because of course he still has all this stuff in his head. “There’s no reason it shouldn’t still be there.
“We’d have to steal a cargo ship,” Cam says, which makes John stiffen all over again, surprise this time, probably. Cam ducks his head, hiding his grin, especially when Jackson points out that they’ve done this before. It makes them sound like intergalactic space pirates.
“Once we recover the ZPM, we can gate straight back to Earth, because the stargate’s already in Antarctica,” Sam finishes. “We’ll just need someone with the Ancient gene to –“
“Operate the chair,” Cam says, turning to look at John a moment before Sam and Jackson catch on.
John’s eyes go wide with apprehension, and Hayes, finally noticing he’s there, says, “And who exactly are you?”
An hour later, Cam’s watching Jackson climb awkwardly into the back of Sam’s F-15, John already strapped in behind Cam in their plane.
“I really think you should let me fly,” John says, not for the first time.
Cam rolls his eyes, knowing John can’t see him. “You’re not even in the Air Force any more,” he points out.
“Neither are you,” John grumbles.
“Not here,” Cam agrees. “Besides, I’m the one who knows where we’re going.”
“Yeah, because I’d never manage to navigate for myself, what with the way F-15s are built without any kind of guidance system whatsoever,” John says, sarcasm coming through loud and clear in the mic.
“You just – sit back there and contemplate the role you’re about to have in saving the galaxy,” Cam says.
“With my magic alien gene,” John says, sounding just as freaked out as he had the first time Cam explained it to him, with a little more help than he really wanted from Jackson.
“Yep,” Cam says cheerfully, because how can he not be cheerful, when he’s got two fifths of his team back, he’s flying, he’s about to go off on some crazed mission to another planet, and, oh yeah, he’s got John Sheppard backing him up while he does it. They’ll have this whole Ba’al thing licked within the week.
Which is, of course, the moment that an airman calls up to let him know that Ba’al’s ships have arrived.
Cam knows what’s coming as soon as the stand by for an encoded message comes through their headsets. Well, not exactly what’s coming, but it’s the details that are the surprise, not the fact of bad news.
“Destroyed?” John echoes, sounding more stunned than he did by alien spaceships over Earth, and Cam remembers that he spent two years in Antarctica, probably knows people down there who died when the ships fired on the facility. Not that it’ll matter now – with the Ancient chair destroyed, the people in Antarctica will probably be the lucky ones, the ones who go out in a blaze of glorious lights, rather than torture on a Goa’uld ship.
“What further instructions can there be, other than kiss your ass goodbye?” Sam asks, echoing Cam’s thoughts.
“What now?” John asks as Cam turns his fighter, heading back the way they’ve just come.
Cam shakes his head, though John probably can’t see him. He wants to say that he’s sorry: for Ba’al being here, for not being able to stop it. For bringing about the destruction of the world that John knows, and for dragging John into a front row seat for all of it. For how they’re going to die, the fact of it and the way of it, for trying to scrape out some happiness from the mess of what should have been his life, and lying to John, and telling him the truth.
“Wait for someone to come up with Plan B,” he says instead, and doesn’t think about how it should be him and Sam and Jackson coming up with the plan.
It gets worse, and Cam’d forgotten how it feels to be up in a jet and unable to do anything but fly, evasive maneuvers while one of their escorts catches the first blast of weapons fire and goes out in a ball of flame. How it feels to watch a place be destroyed thousands of feet below, helpless to stop it, to think of the people down there who are terrified and just as helpless, waiting for the end.
John’s silent in the co-pilot seat as they change direction, heading for Russia and the last hope for saving the world – again. Cam can’t tell if it’s because he has nothing to say, or just nothing to say that he wants to say with Sam and Jackson and their escort listening in. He knows his own silence is for the latter, words they never said that he wants to but that he knows shouldn’t be said with the end so close and an audience.
And then it’s too late, even if he wanted to, because there are fighters coming at them, and Cam sinks into the cold still place that aerial fights always drop him into. He knows that if he was to close his eyes, he’d see ice and the golden burn of the exploding Goa’uld ships, so strong that he twitches, reminds himself that this isn’t then, that he can still feel his legs. That this time he’s the one asking people to die for the mission, not the one doing the dying.
He doesn’t even know their names, but that doesn’t change the way something inside him breaks, watching their escort take on the fighters and fail, just to give SG1 a chance.
He can feel John’s distress behind him, the burden of command that never goes away, even when he’s not in command any more.
“I’m sorry,” he says, quiet enough that no-one will hear over the sound of the battle outside. Not unless they’re listening.
The back-of-the-lorry ride to the Russian stargate is painfully reminiscent of Cam’s first few trips in his yellow Mustang, rattling through potholes until his teeth hurt. Jackson’s up front with the driver, out of conversation range, and Sam’s in her science head-space, just as much out of range. Cam’s hands are starting to tremble – exhaustion and crashing adrenaline, and he’d give anything to sleep through the journey. It won’t happen now, not without a victory or some really good drugs to knock him out.
“Even if you can steal a ship and find a ZPM,” John says finally, when the driver announces that they’re nearly there. “The Ancient weapons platform was in Antarctica, it’s been destroyed. How’s any of that going to help?” He sounds more curious than anything else, but it’s the first time he’s spoken in hours.
When Cam glances over, John’s looking down at his hands, slumped over, and Cam knows he’s already figured out the answer.
The ridiculous thing is, even knowing he’s a bad guy now, even knowing he’s landed an al’kesh on the roof of their last hope and probably wants to kill them all, Cam still feels a rush of weak-kneed relief when the figure on the other end of his gun turns and it’s Teal’c. It means he’s not dead, and, okay, bad guy, but O’Neill brought him over from the Goa’uld before, and maybe they can do it again. And if Teal’c isn’t dead, then maybe Vala isn’t either, and sure, that probably just means they’ll all get to die together, but if they’re going to die anyway, he’d rather die with his team.
Except that Teal’c doesn’t know him now, Teal’c is working for Ba’al now, in exchange for the freedom of his people, which Cam sure as hell can’t offer in this reality and, oh yeah, Ba’al’s been killed, which is good, but by his queen, Qetesh, which is very much in the bad column.
Also, Jackson’s going to have a field day explaining all this to John, assuming they survive that long.
“Time machine,” John mutters on the other side of the gate, once Teal’c’s been persuaded not to kill Cam after all, because, as it turns out, they *can* offer the freedom of the Jaffa people, just, okay, not in this reality, exactly. Cam’s totally on board with going back to the reality they should be in.
He’s not going to think about how that reality includes a John Sheppard who’s really barely his friend, and who lives in another galaxy. There’s no universe where he wouldn’t make that trade, and no universe where John wouldn’t make it as well.
He comes over to stand with Cam and Jackson while Sam takes her customary ten seconds to intuit the workings of a device she’s never seen before in her life. He’s twitchier than Cam can ever remember him being, keeps looking over his shoulder at Teal’c.
“You sure we can trust him?” he asks.
Cam can’t help the grin when he looks over and sees Teal’c standing waiting for them. “We can trust him,” he says. “He’s saved my life more times than I can count.”
John nods, looking unconvinced. “Okay. Cos he just held a gun to your head.”
“He’s just makin’ a point,” Cam says easily, and that’s when a galaxy of stars appears above their heads.
“Wow,” John says softly. When Cam looks over at him, he’s staring up at the hologram, face softened with wonder. This is all completely new to him, Cam thinks. This is how he looked when he sat in the Ancient chair.
The thought makes it a hell of a lot easier to hope, though there’s no reason why it should.
“They’re satellites,” Sam says, watching a sun zoom down in front of them. “Looking for solar flares to intersect with the gate dialing. It’s the only way to travel through time.”
She looks at John as she says it, and Cam remembers – her John got sent 48,000 years into the future by a solar flare, than bounced back after 700 years in stasis with another, just in time to change the future. Not that it did any good, that future gone as surely as everything else.
“Great,” Cam says, pulling her attention back. “Which button do we press?”
“I think it’s a little more complicated than that,” Jackson says, the same smug, decade-of-stargate-experience tone that Cam’s always hated.
“Actually, not much,” Sam says, which makes John laugh. “We just need to choose a time and place before Ba’al can put his plan into action.”
And, as if she’s conjured it into being with her words, a set of rings appears.
“They are here,” Teal’c says, as if anyone, even John who’s never seen them before, could possibly not realize what they mean.
“Sam…” Cam says, urgency crawling unpleasantly through his veins. He hates this part, the moment before the fighting starts, the wait.
“If you want to go back to the cretaceous period, we can go right now,” Sam snaps, eyes on the computer. “Otherwise we have to wait for a flare that’s capable of sending us back to a time and place that’s a little more useful.”
Cam’s already turning away, handing off his side-arm to Jackson, John right there with them, Teal’c and his Jaffa buddies up ahead, the flash of light as the rings activate, and this, Cam can do. Hold them off while Sam does her thing, welcome to life on SG1.
One thing he’ll say for ring transporters, they do make it easy to pick off an invading force: limited numbers, all grouped together, and sure, staff blasts hurt like a bitch, but they’ve got a damn big pillar to hide behind.
A couple more go rounds, he’s thinking as the rings activate for the third time, peering down his weapon at the incoming Jaffa, and they’ll have made it.
“I’ve found one!” Sam shouts into the brief pause as the last of the third group goes down. “But you’re not going to like it.”
John slams a second magazine into his nine millimeter. “Why not?” Cam asks.
“It’ll send us back to 1929.”
No, she’s right, Cam’s not keen on that. “It’s ten years too soon.”
The rings activate again, half a dozen more Jaffa.
“Well, it’ll have to do, because I’m just about out of bullets,” Jackson yells over the sound of staff blasts discharging, and Cam turns to Sam to say okay, do it. It’s John’s inarticulate yell of shock that stops him, and then he sees what John did – Jackson’s not ducking, he’s falling, he’s hit, a burning hole and –
Sam doesn’t even wait for him to say yes, which is good, because he’s pretty sure his mind’s too frozen with shock to find the word. This isn’t happening, this isn’t how it’s supposed to go. They all make it, they’re a team.
“Once I dial the stargate, we’ll have less than twenty seconds to get through,” Sam calls down.
John shouts again, right next to him, and tosses his weapon away. He’s empty-handed, totally defenseless.
“Dial it up and get your ass down here,” Cam shouts up to Sam. Sam who doesn’t have a weapon either, who gave it to Daniel, and all they have to do is get through the gate and this will be over. Wiped away for something better.
He barely sees the blast that hits her, camouflaged by the woosh of the gate. She goes down without a sound – it’s Cam who screams, for her, then for Teal’c.
Twenty seconds. “Teal’c, let’s go.”
Less, and he knows, four years fighting at the guy’s side, he knows Teal’c isn’t going to come.
And just for a second, he doesn’t want to go either. He’s lived a year without them, and he’s going to be living out at least a decade, before Ba’al shows up and they can stop him, and he doesn’t want to go without them.
Except that there’s more than him at stake here, the fate of the world hanging on what he does, and he grew up with the good of the many over the good of the few.
The gate glows blue, last chance to change this for the them who are coming, even if he can’t change it for the them who are here.
Cam grabs John’s wrist, feels him stumble over the steps up to the gate –