Cam's forearms were rigid with disappointed, frustrated tension as he gripped the wheel of his Mustang, accelerated away from the last of the mountain's checkpoints and merged into free flowing pre-rush-hour traffic. The early nightfall brought on by the winter storm's torrential downpour meant that all Cam could see, beyond his rain-streaked windshield, were the random flashes of red taillights as drivers – eager for the warmth of home – braked , sped forward and changed lanes without warning.
It had been two months. There'd been no word and tension had stealthily crept its way into every waking moment. Thursday's mission to M27-911 had resulted in Lam keeping him overnight for a knock to the head. It'd been nothing, Cam more concerned that an enforced stay in the infirmary would prevent him checking his messages.
"Fuck!" Cam yanked the wheel to the left and changed lanes with a quick glance over his shoulder as the car in front slammed on its breaks and horns blared out of the teeming rain.
Today's highlight had been the IOA's importance of diplomacy when encountering new interstellar races meeting, where Cam and the other SG team leaders had spent five hours listening to their brain cells dying slow and painful deaths. All off-world team members knew the guidelines, had been practising them in the field for years. It'd been a giant waste of time and five hours of his life that he'd never get back. He was getting too old for this diplomacy shit; after all it was just a bunch of suits making sure they got their chance to screw everyone over. Cam preferred meetings where the only screwing was consensual and involved skin against skin, pleading whispers and hoarse climatic groans.
"Fuck!" Two months and the one email that would let him breathe again was still AWOL from his inbox.
'Damn it! Why'd he have to fall for an emotionally stunted flyboy with avoidance issues and a self-sacrificing hero complex?'
Cam pulled off the main drag and drove ten above the limit around the climbing bends as he tried to remember if he'd left any beer in the fridge.
"Pity party of one" he groused distractedly as halogen-bright light filled the car and blinded him.
Cam braked harder than he should've, felt the ass slide out and the wheels lock as their tread tried to grip the rain-slick surface, heard the deepening groan of a semi down-shifting hurriedly. The deafening blare of air horns startled him, pumped ice-cold adrenalin through his veins and drowned out the pounding of the rain on the Mustang's roof, but he still couldn't see past the whiteout, couldn't tell from which direction the threat was approaching in order to move!
The impact, when it came, surrounded Cam in stunning white light, screaming metal and the roar of a high revved engine. It threw him against his door, head bouncing off the glass and into the head rest like a bobble-head doll. His hands instinctively fisted the wheel, trying to control the uncontrollable, but were flung to float in nothingness like a film in slow motion. The semi, with the force of its trailer powering it, sandwiched the Mustang sideways into a parked car as the headlights and grill tried ravenously to reach Cam by chewing through the passenger door, folding the Mustang's panels like they were tinfoil and pinning Cam's legs beneath the ruined steering column.
It went on forever, the terrifying screech, squeal and grind, the stunning brightness burnt onto his retinas and the searing pain that ripped along every single nerve ending then out his mouth on a pitifully weak and inaudible moan. His number was up. The relief of soothing blackness slipped seductively into his mind, cooled the scorching fire in his legs and made everything too heavy. Cam felt himself going under, wanted to fight but nothing would obey his silent command and as his eyelids fluttered shut, he thought of the one person's arms he wanted around him while he died; the strong, capable, fucking amazing arms of someone who didn't want him anymore.
He slumped with a sickeningly crunchy thud against the corner of door frame and broken window. He didn't feel the glass shards pop the curve of his cheek and slice in under his jaw. He didn't feel the relentless rain as it soaked his cropped hair and washed away the salt of his tears with trickling rivulets that slithered down his neck, mingled with the deep crimson that was steadily soaking the once-white fabric of his tee.
But he did hear sirens, growing fainter not louder, knew they'd be too late; then Cam heard someone calling him from far away and whispered silently in answer, "John?"
He jerked upright and mostly awake, sweat cooling on his bare trembling skin and heart pounding in his ears as the echo of a scream filled the blue tinted moonlight of his quarters; a scream that sounded a hellova lot like Cam's name.
John scanned the room with wide eyes, searching for what had woken him before dropping his face into his still shaky palms and rubbing back and forth to clear the lingering wisps of sleep, 'just a dream.'
With a deep shuddery groan he fell back, his head missing the skewed pillow, 'or a guilty conscience?'
He was just falling back to sleep, despite the crushing weight of loss and the broken stare of sky-blue eyes that accused him from the inside of his eyelids, when Banks' voice summoned him through the PA's hidden speaker, "Colonel Sheppard? You're needed in the control room."
"On my way," John answered and flung back the tangle of sheet and blanket before shoving socked feet into boots and grabbing his plaid shirt from the back of the desk chair as he jogged out the widening gap in his doors.
Woolsey was waiting for him when John cleared the top two steps of the stairs in the back of the control room.
"What's up?" He asked, his eyes scanning the quiet stargate operations and the normal, unhurried looking night crew.
"My office, Colonel," Woolsey murmured and held his left arm out as if herding sheep.
John's gut was twisting faster than a nest of rattlers; judging by the look on Woolsey's face this was something far worse than an impending Wraith incursion of his city.
He felt the heavy stares of Banks and her team, heard a whisper as the glass door slid closed a half second after his boots cleared the threshold, sealing him and the base commander in a see-through box of expectant silence.
"Please have a seat Colonel," Woolsey gestured to the white leather chairs arranged for conversation against the opposite wall from his desk.
With a brisk nod, John lowered himself into the cool plushness and felt the cushions slowly mould to his shape. It was disconcerting to feel a sense of weightlessness while sitting in a chair, even if it was an alien designed one.
Woolsey took the adjacent chair with an air of a man approaching a ticking bomb. "At 3.27am, Atlantis Standard Time, we had an unscheduled off-world activation from Earth."
John made the automatic conversion - 2100 in Colorado - and wished Woolsey would just get on with it. The way his balding and bespectacled CO was acting could only mean the dial-in was somehow connected to John. 'Dave, it could only be Dave, because no one here knew about...'
'Oh shit!' He knew. Cam's face hovered in his mind and John knew. His fingers dug crescents into soft white leather while his gut took a 9G dive. He knew. In the moment Woolsey said his name instead of his rank, he knew.
'Please,' his heart stuttered. 'They'd fought about something so important, but John couldn't for the life of him remember what. He could remember Cam standing in front of him, so pissed and hurt and disappointed, as he tried to reason the complications away. It'd been something trivial, something John could've given, something so simple, something that would've made Cam happy; and John – stubborn ass that he was – had fought him on it. And now...'
John blinked and looked into the other man's concerned expression, "where is he?"
Woolsey breathed out a slightly relieved sigh. He hadn't been entirely sure how he was going to tell his military commander, a man bound by rules that made no sense to him, that his male lover, a man also bound by those same rules, was lying in a coma at Penrose Hospital. Not for the first time he was appreciative of the Colonel's obvious intelligence and gift for grasping the heart of any situation. "In a coma at Penrose Hospital."
'...and now, right now, Cam was lying in a coma and might not ever fight with him again; might never hear John's weak-ass apology for something he couldn't remember.'
"When can we dial-in?"
"Colonel Carter reported that the SGC has several teams returning in the next f-"
"Mr Woolsey," John just needed the facts, waffling explanations wouldn't help, he couldn't think of a time when they'd ever helped.
"Zero four hundred?" John confirmed as he spared a quick glance at the digital face of his standard issue watch.
"Yes, Amelia has been informed."
John couldn't prevent the startled panic from showing on his face, but Woolsey reached out to him in what John supposed was meant to be reassurance.
"The time of the dial-out only."
"Thank you," John croaked in relief as he rose smoothly to his feet, hoping the other man would understand all that he tried to infuse into those two words.
"Of course, John, please accept my prayers for Colonel Mitchell's recovery."
John nodded and swallowed against the lump Cam's name had formed in his throat. He was down the back stairs and jogging along the deserted corridor to his quarters before he realised he'd left Woolsey's office, and hadn't given Lorne a heads up. With a habitual tap he radioed his XO and smirked as he heard the reliable yet sleepy yes Sir? that scratched in his left ear.
Commanding voices echoed behind the quick flashes of yellow light that penetrated first his left eye then his right. Jolts of random pain lanced through him as he swayed, kind of weightless, mostly heavier than gravity. He wanted to take a piss, he wanted to throw up, but most of all he wanted to sleep.
More insistent shaking. More sickening pain. Why wouldn't they let him sleep? His grandma always said everything looked better after a little sleep...
"Damn it! He's going under!"
'Under what?...John?...loved being under John...having John under him...'
"Yes, Colonel, you're okay,"
'No...not John...a woman's voice...John not a woman...he loved a man...secret...John...secret...'
"Shhh," Cam whispered with silent lips and didn't feel the rain on his closed eyelids, or the padding of the head brace as the paramedics carried his backboard the two hundred feet to the orange chopper idling eagerly in the middle of the road.
John waited, alone in the gate room, as the last chevron locked and he was bathed in ethereal blue light. There was no Ronon by his side this time; no one to have his back. He was alone. John had been alone most of his life, even during his short marriage he'd been alone – until he'd met Cam. They'd been separated by war, duty assignments and eventually by the entirely vast void between two galaxies; but no matter the distance, Cam had filled the empty longing inside him and if John couldn't fix what he'd broken, then he'd be alone again.
The cool tingle caressed his cheeks as he stepped through nothingness and out into the heavy greyness of the SGC's gateroom where Sam waited for him at the bottom of the ramp.
"Colonel Carter," John tried for a smile but it never left the corner of his mouth, before sliding off his face entirely.
"John," Sam's hand felt warm and comforting where it fleetingly squeezed his arm.
"Yes, then topside where there's a car waiting," Sam answered as she paced him down the grey corridor.
John always forgot how oppressive being in the SGC felt after the light airiness of Atlantis' architecturally-stunning spaces. The thought of an entire mountain literally hanging over you, not only weighed on your mind but on your body and soul as well; almost as if you were buried alive. John shoved the morbid thought aside, dropped his duffle to the left of the infirmary door and boosted himself onto the nearest empty bed. The sooner he got released, the sooner he could get to where he should never have left.
Penrose was twenty minutes away but as John sat in the back of the black Air Force staff car with the brilliant-white headlights of on-coming traffic distorting in the rain streaked passenger window and catching the corners of his eyes, it seemed a hellova lot longer.
It was almost laughable that a mere Earth-based car crash could be what ended Cam. John shifted awkwardly, trying to alter the position and crushing press of the smooth fabric crossing his chest without actually having to touch it. Had Cam been wearing his seatbelt? In the last five years John'd travelled at inconceivable speeds without any kind of restraint and survived numerous less-than-perfect landings, so he couldn't figure how a flimsy strap of fabric would factor positively into any outcome's equation. 'Fuck! He felt like he was suffocating!'
John's attention snapped back to his driver's silhouette and the car's previously dark interior, noticed light flooding in, highlighting the tops of his parted thighs, the seatbelt's silver catch and the zipper on his duffle.
"Right," he cleared the roughness from his throat and gratefully freed himself with a quiet snick, fisted his duffle and climbed out into the comparatively cool night air. "Thanks."
The Sergeant pulled smoothly away from the kerb, leaving John standing on the utilitarian concrete slab and watching as the sleek black car was quickly swallowed into the nothingness of a dreary night's dark cloak. He stood for a moment, sheltered from the now weak drizzle by the roof overhang, with a sense of abandonment too deep for the moment. He didn't ever remember feeling so fragile, so unsure of himself, so unable to see his next move.
John turned at the sound of his name with the sense that whoever was there had called him more than once before he'd registered. She was smiling, her tired blue eyes, crinkled at their corners, were so familiar John's breath caught with painful longing in his throat.
"Wendy," John felt himself moving, stepping forward to hold, only to find himself wrapped in the comforting warmth of arms that held a familiar echo of her son, and John's lover.
She held tight, answering a need he hadn't been aware of. The scent of warm pastry, sweet fruit and hay filled his head, comforting and real; that tripped memories of annual leave spent with Cam on the Mitchell's farm. John shuddered and started to pull back; he had to get some separation or all the reserve strength he'd been hoarding since Woolsey's office, would drain away to nothing.
"It'll be okay, John."
He nodded without meeting Cam's mother's eyes, gripped a desperate hold on the black canvas of his duffle and gestured Wendy inside ahead of him.
John walked down the quietly busy hospital corridor like he was visiting from another world. Nothing touched him; a hologram within a holographic world. Trolley wheels squeaked in echoey silence, footsteps trod soundlessly and yet, the brush of his black linen shirt against the waist of his jeans and each of his controlled exhales startled harshly against his inner ear.
He followed Wendy, her shadow in pace and direction, until she stopped outside an ordinary looking door with an envelope sized window above the silver lever of a handle. He stood there, motionless.
'...shouldn't be here...he'd left...he'd broken them. Cam wouldn't want him here.'
He looked up from the shiny surface of his boots and into the eyes of the woman whose son he'd broken and heard words he didn't know if he'd ever fully believe.
"It's nobody's fault. Cameron loves you and I know you love Cameron, that love gives you the right to be here." Wendy took the duffle John had been using as a lifeline and opened the door.
All that was left was for John to step over the threshold into the darkened room.
He was occupying a stool in an out-of-the-way bar known only to a particular clientele, had gotten its red leather seat warmed and moulded so it no longer squeaked when he leaned forward on the lovingly-polished mahogany bar. He'd just raised his hand to signal Jay – was it just him, or did all bartenders have single syllable names – only to hear the familiar honey-smooth tones that slid and caught on the rough bark of a southern drawl, "this one's on me flyboy."
Cam's well shucks, Sir Kansas farm boy routine, never failed to make every part of John thrum with want and it'd been just shy of a year since he'd last heard it. John was intensely aware of the way Cam was leaning back against the bar, arching his tall frame so John could watch the play of toned muscles beneath snug grey cotton, quietly crowding closer till their forearms grazed with a hushed rasp and warm calloused fingertips stroked the side of his bicep. John smirked as he raised his chin to meet his Colonel's heated gaze, felt a frizzon of heat slake over the surface of his flushed skin, felt his dick pulse and harden eagerly as he dipped his head to Cam's ear. "You're feeling generous tonight, or do you think getting me drunk gets you laid?"
Cam's amused and breathy chuckle crinkled the corners of his stunning blue eyes as they traced appreciatively over John's lightly stubbled jaw and down to where the chain of his tags peeked out the neckline of his black tee. John was already leaning into his lover's longed-for touch as Cam grazed his fingertips slowly across the back of John's neck, played teasingly with the silver ball chain as it rolled over sensitive tanned skin; he was so amped he couldn't seem to stay in his skin as Cam's fingers wandered up into his hair. Hypnotized by the strokes at the base of his skull, John watched as a pink tongue licked full lips, gave them an inviting sheen in the golden glow of the bar's muted lighting, "do you need to be drunk?"
John stilled, like a deer in headlights, wondering how to say what he needed. Cam's fingers gave a final squeeze before sliding to curve over John's tense shoulder, tugging him tight and close before releasing him with a grin, "bar keep, another round."
John reached for the new bottle with its condensation soaking into the cardboard coaster and smiled inwardly as he swigged the ice-cold heavenly taste of American beer, not Athosian ale. He'd missed Cam's easy understanding and acceptance of what he needed. He missed Cam.
Three beers later and the feel of a warm palm sliding up the length of his parted denim-clad thigh had John tossing a couple of bills on the bar and standing up into Cam's space. He followed Cam out the still-near-empty bar and up the street a bit to where the Mustang was parked. They'd barely made it through Cam's front door, before he was slammed against the nearest wall, fingers unbuttoning jeans as Cam licked his way into John's willing mouth...
Memory brought a gleam to John's tired green eyes and a genuine smile to his full lips. The taste of his lover's heat, the way Cam's hands had felt on his hips as he held John tight and close and firm. John had been wrecked and he'd known it. They'd been together a long time – if you could call being in different galaxies, together. Seeing each other maybe twice a year, if they were lucky, sucked; but it was theirs and they'd made it work.
Yet, it had always been there, stalking him, peeking out from behind the flimsily constructed wall in John's mind; the fear that today would happen, just as it had. As John stepped further into the single bed room, lit only by the lime green readings on the ECG and saw Cam beat up and lying motionless beneath a thin blanket, he knew he'd been a fucking idiot.
He just stood there, his body too heavy to move, the image of vibrant-full-of-laughter-Cam failing to overlap with the reality of motionless-damaged-in-a-coma-Cam in his overtaxed mind. The undeniable fact was John's overdeveloped need to protect Cam from disgrace and dishonour, from the pain of a broken heart John would inevitably cause, had landed the man he loved in the exact situation John had been trying to avoid. 'Fate, the sick bitch, must be laughing her fucking ass off!'
"Well don't just stand there son, get over here."
John startled at the hoarsely barked whisper. He hadn't noticed the silent bulk of Frank Mitchell, who was rising from the visitor's chair and gathering his balance on his canes. By the time he'd covered the space between them, Cam's father was upright and offering his hand for John to shake. The older man's grip was a dry, firm, no nonsense shackle that held past the unspoken length of social acceptability. John looked up into the intensity of brown eyes filled with worry and the bone-deep strength that had pulled Frank through his own trials. "Fix it."
Before John could find any kind of answer, he was left standing with his hand still extended as Cam's father hobbled, surprisingly quickly, to the door. A swathe of light bathed the framed print on the wall for a moment, the door catch snicked quietly and John was alone, in the dark, with rhythmic electronic bleeps and the broken damaged shell of the man he loved. He'd never felt more alone in his life.
'Fix it, Frank had ordered.'
"Yes, Sir," John murmured with heartfelt resolve as he folded his long frame into the cold hard plastic of the only chair in the room. He had no clue how he'd do it, but it was one order that John Sheppard was intent on following to the letter.
"Cam?" He whispered as he slid his hand palm-up beneath the cool heavy one lying on top of the aircell blanket and entwined their fingers, "it's John, I'm here."
'If you still want me.'
Light chased shadow through the ever-decreasing, ever-retreating tunnel his vision had become. He floated, calm and at peace but with a growing sense that pain and loss and struggle hovered just out of sight, like the monster in the closet. You knew it was there but if you didn't acknowledge it, it would stay in the background, watching but never striking, never ripping you to shreds.
He knew it was bad, knew if he went back, if he surrendered to the seductive pull of the ever-strengthening light, he'd need all the courage he'd ever possessed. He knew, because he'd had to do it once before; only that time John had been there, had held him when he was too weak to hide his tears, had caught him when he was too exhausted to complete those final steps; but John wasn't here. John had left him, had said it wasn't going to work, said Cam was earmarked for three stars and John'd only hold him back, keep him from being who he was meant to be.
In classic Sheppard style, John had never said what he wanted. It was always Cam, which to an outsider would've seemed sickeningly romantic, but in reality it totally pissed Cam off! There were two of them in this thing and he wanted to give John everything – if only the stubborn ass would let him. He got that John was scared, hell, it wasn't like Cam knew how any of this was supposed to work. He just knew – from the moment Major John Sheppard, with that ridiculous hair and hazel/green eyes, had strode into the SGC's mess – he was who Cam wanted. What Cam didn't know, was when Cam's career had become more important to John than Cam himself.
"...when you came to Atlantis, chasing fairy tales..."
Cam searched but couldn't locate the source of the voice, John's voice, coming in five-by-five from the patch of tantalising light he'd been determinedly ignoring.
"...a kid in a candy store, a flyboy with the stick in your fist and nothing but blue out the canopy..."
Cam remembered; it was the same mission he'd seen John reigning supreme in his city, an ancient city that talked to him, allowed John to control it with his mind. It was then that Cam realised John's home had never really been Earth. He hadn't known what to do with that knowledge; but on the night before the Odyssey was due to return to the Milky Way, as he'd thrust home deep inside John, Cam had felt as if he was saying goodbye.
"...I couldn't hold you back but I couldn't keep away. Every gate-through to Earth and you'd be there, that look in your eye, like I was special, like you didn't care how messed up I was, I was yours, and...I couldn't...I just...couldn't..."
Cam was climbing, soaring through ever-lightening layers of something, he had no name for it but it felt inviting, soothing, right. It felt right and where he wanted to be, yet the dark shadow that had cocooned him, sheltered him, been his protector against pain and fear and loss, had turned traitor, was holding him back, clinging to the undefined edges of what was Cam in this place.
He no longer wanted to hide here. He wanted to fight. He wanted to conquer.
He struggled, violently with loyal strength that surged up, covering his six; John had come back and Cam was gonna do everything to make sure John knew the score, knew that he was Cam's. He could be in Atlantis, a gazillion miles away but he would always be Cam's and Cam, would always be John's. They could have it all because they'd earned it. As far as Cam was concerned, the universe owed them.
Cam's index finger twitched so faintly against John's that at first he didn't think it'd happened. He lifted his cheek from the narrow patch of damp blanket by Cam's thigh and stared unblinkingly at their joined hands; waiting, holding his breath and waiting, hoping.
There it was, again, this time index and middle finger together, sliding in the restricted space of John's grasp.
"Cam?" It was barely a whisper but it seemed over-loud in the stretched silence between bleeps.
His hand was clutched in a fluttery squeeze John thought was supposed to be a death grip; only Cam didn't have enough strength available. John squeezed back, 'he'd be strong enough for the both of them.'
"Apology accepted," Cam croaked painfully through the taut parched fibres of his unused throat.
"Cam?!" John exclaimed as he dashed away the water that wasn't tears and leaned in over Cam's battered and dressing swathed face.
"Who else were you expecting?" He grumbled as his eyes opened in a series of gradually widening blinks. "If you're in the wrong room, it's too damn bad."
John chuckled through the wave of overwhelming relief that'd turned his knees to jell-o and was gently brushing his fingertips over Cam's cheek. "Oh yeah, why's that?"
"Cause, flyboy, you're mine, and I ain't lettin' ya go," Cam's voice was a soft rasp over a core of fierce steel as he turned into the butterfly-soft caress of John's shaky hesitant touch.
"Works for me," John whispered with scorched longing as he leaned in close and pressed their lips together.
Summary: He jerked upright and mostly awake, sweat cooling on his bare trembling skin and heart pounding in his ears as the echo of a scream filled the blue tinted moonlight of his quarters; a scream that sounded a hellova lot like...