John drifted awake by increments, feeling more rested than he'd been in years. The sheets were soft against his naked body, smelling faintly of the lavender-scented detergent that Mrs Mitchell liked to use. Cam was warm against his back, their legs tangled together. Reaching behind him, John caught Cam's arm and tugged it around his waist. It was early, even for the farm. They still had time.
Cam stirred, murmured, "Mornin', sunshine," and dropped a kiss on John's nape. The arm around his waist tightened, pulling him snug against Cam's hips. "You want some breakfast?"
"Is that what they're calling it these days?" He wriggled a little, feeling Cam's dick get hard and hot against his ass. "I can't keep up with the slang." Yawning, he cupped his own dick, still mostly soft, then rolled onto his belly. "Here, get on me," he said, going completely limp on the bed, his mind beginning to drift again.
"So damn lazy," groused Cam, lying down on top of him, using his knees to spread John's thighs apart, his heavy weight pushing the air from John's lungs. "Why do I put up with you?"
"You love me, that's why," he said, then opened his eyes. His quarters were grey in the pre-dawn light. Outside his window, Atlantis lay dreaming.
Sam frowned at him as they were gearing up in the locker room. "Hey, you okay? No offence, but you look like hell."
"Didn't get much sleep last night," Cam grunted, busying himself with checking over his pack to avoid her worried gaze.
"Colonel Mitchell has been having trouble sleeping for the past several days," said Teal'c, the big tattletale.
Jackson frowned sympathetically. "Nightmares?"
"Not exactly." They were weird dreams, not nightmares. Nothing to worry about. Just weird sex dreams starring the man he'd loved years ago and who had broken his heart in a million pieces. Calling them nightmares would be melodramatic.
"I have nightmares sometimes," said Vala, coming over to squeeze Cam's arm in a friendly fashion. "You know what helps me sleep? Cuddling a soft toy with synthetic fur. Some of them also play soothing music."
"Or you could tire yourself out with sex beforehand." Jackson paused, then grimaced. "I said that out loud, didn't I."
"Indeed," said Teal'c, while Sam and Vala smirked in amusement.
"Can we please go on this mission already?" asked Cam a little desperately, slamming his locker closed.
The mission was a cakewalk and went smoother than smooth, despite Cam's sleep deficit and rattled nerves, which was a relief. The Kworda were impressed that SG-1 was comprised of both military and scientific personnel--apparently their society highly valued diversity and pluralism. Their diplomatic contingent bombarded Sam, Teal'c, and Cam with questions about the arts and sciences, while Daniel and Vala fielded inquiries about battles they had fought, military theory and tactics.
But after the debriefing with Landry, Sam pulled Cam aside and said, "Since when do you know anything about the Feynman path integral?"
Cam looked at her blankly. "Obviously I've been hanging around you too long," he eventually replied, which wasn't really an answer.
They didn't use a condom, which should have been a clue right there, but John was too preoccupied with fucking Cam into the headboard to notice. "You're so tight." He clutched at Cam's hips, slamming him down on his cock.
"It's been a while," said Cam, panting, his mouth red and bruised and wet. He stared up at John with eyes gone dark, like John was the last thing he'd ever see. "John, John, come on, harder--"
"Yeah, you can take it, you can--fuck, Cam, so good," John groaned. He curled in closer, lowered his head to suck a mark below Cam's collarbone, where it wouldn't show. He came with a shout, hips stuttering, then pulled out of Cam and slithered down to get his mouth on Cam's dick in time to swallow his climax. He laid his cheek on Cam's right thigh to rest and catch his breath, frowning when he saw scars on Cam's left thigh that he didn't remember.
Gentle fingers carded through his hair, and John tipped his head back to look up at him. "I miss you," he said, quietly, drinking in the familiar sight of Cam, fucked out, red-faced and so damn gorgeous. It had been so many years since he'd had this. "I miss you."
He woke up sticky and alone.
"John? John, are you all right?"
He shook off the cobwebs and smiled wanly at Teyla. They were seated at their usual table on the balcony outside the mess hall, breakfast trays in front of them, the cool morning breeze ruffling their hair. "Sorry, you were saying something?"
"Only that I'd hoped you could watch Torren for us tomorrow night. Kanaan and I will be attending his cousin's wedding on Belka and we'd prefer to leave Torren at home. He is recovering from a slight cold." Teyla touched his wrist with just her fingertips, tiny dots of warmth against his skin, trying to catch his wandering attention. "But perhaps you are coming down with a cold yourself? You're quite pale, John."
John straightened up and tried to look perky. "Nah, I'm fine. Just thinking about the next mission to PX4-172. If we don't make any progress on the negotiations, I'm going to recommend to Woolsey to cut our losses."
"Hmm," said Teyla, her eyebrows raised in a manner that clearly conveyed her scepticism. She was the soul of generosity and discretion, however, and allowed him to change the subject. "The artifact you activated the last time we visited seemed promising, but I agree that the Nisoff have proved to be... rather inefficient in their decision-making. They may have a lot to offer, but I'm not certain they will be worth the trouble."
'Inefficient' was something of an understatement. The Nisoff were egalitarian--aggressively egalitarian. There was no leadership, no chain of command. They voted on everything and never got around to deciding on anything.
"My daddy always says, don't let the tail wag the dog..." John trailed off, his head suddenly spinning. He looked up, disoriented, and saw Teal'c crouched behind a blasted wall, firing a zat gun at unseen enemies. He could hear P-90s firing in bursts to his left--Carter--and to his right--Jackson. There was an explosion--Vala, creating a distraction--and then he was running for the stargate with his team right behind him.
"John?" He blinked away the hallucination and found Teyla staring at him from across their table, a forkful of fake eggs poised near her mouth. He hadn't gone anywhere, hadn't moved an inch. He wasn't running for his life from hostile aliens somewhere in the Milky Way.
He stumbled to his feet. "Sorry, I have to--" People were turning to stare. John took a deep breath, trying to calm his racing heart. "You know, I'm not feeling that well after all. Ronon can baby-sit, can't he? You know Torren likes him better anyway. I have to-- I'm gonna go lie down."
"Perhaps you should go to the infirmary instead," said Teyla, standing and reaching for his arm.
"I'm fine, Teyla, I'm just going to lie down in my room." He dodged her hand and escaped out into the corridor, and once he hit the transporter he was home free.
In his quarters, he opened his laptop and pounded out a hasty email. I think I'm seeing things. I saw you on a mission. Did you make it back okay? He sent it out to the server, where the email would sit until it could be compressed and sent out in the next data-burst to Earth.
John paced the room like a caged animal, then flipped open his laptop again. "I'm losing it," he muttered, going into the server to delete the email.
"Did you and Nancy ever think of having kids?" asked Cam. He was in bed, under the covers, with John curled up beside him, his head on Cam's shoulder and soft, rumpled hair tickling Cam's chin. The curtains were pulled open, allowing the street lights to bathe his bedroom in dim yellow. Inside a wooden crib at the foot of the bed slumbered a chubby baby with silky black hair and light brown skin.
"Nah, we were too busy for that. Too focused on our careers." A warm puff of breath brushed Cam's throat as John sighed. "I like kids, though. Torren's pretty cute."
"You were always good with my little cousins," Cam agreed. "I used to think I'd have kids one day. But." He pressed his lips to John's forehead to keep from speaking and felt John frowning.
"Hey, come on, you're not even forty yet."
It had always been a nebulous dream--the kids, the wife, the happy home. Cam had chased after adventure with his whole being, only too willing to delay having a family until some unknown future date when he'd be older and wiser and ready to settle down. Then he'd woken up one morning and realised that he would never have what he really wanted.
"It's not gonna happen, not for me." Cam could feel John's unhappiness, his frown deepening, his grip on Cam's arm tightening. "Hey, it's okay. I can live with it." He would always have some lingering regret, but getting to fly spaceships and travel to other planets had been more than adequate compensation. "You can't have everything, right? We wouldn't have the lives we have now, the Air Force, the stargate, if we'd made different decisions when we were younger."
John was silent for a long time, long enough that Cam had nearly drifted off to sleep when John finally murmured, "Sometimes I wish..."
Cam waited, then prodded him in the ribs.
"Sometimes I wish we were still... like we were." John turned his face into Cam's neck, holding on. His lashes swept against Cam's skin. "I miss you," he whispered. "I still wake up sometimes and wonder where you went. Like you'd gone for a run or something and didn't tell me."
"John," said Cam, squeezing his eyes shut against his confession, like he could stop himself from seeing the truth. "This isn't real. I'm dreaming, that's all." He blinked awake a moment later, the morning sun slanting across his face. He'd slept through his alarm.
"I love you," he said to the ceiling.
Keller frowned and shone a light in his eyes. "And how long has this been going on?"
"About two weeks?" John had only caved and gone to the infirmary when he'd spaced out during a sparring session with Ronon and got knocked on his ass for his trouble. Bad enough he'd been having the dreams, but if he started hallucinating during a mission it would put his team's safety at risk. "Maybe I've taken too many hits to the head," he joked, forcing a grin. "Brains are all scrambled."
"Let's run a scan before we pronounce you brain-damaged, okay?" said Keller wryly, urging him to lie down. The Ancient version of an MRI passed over him with a flicker of green light and Keller hummed as she studied the output. Hunching over her laptop, she began pulling up different windows and mumbling, "That's strange," and "Hmm, interesting," to herself.
John squirmed out from under the MRI thingy and sat up. "Come on, Doc, don't leave me hanging."
"Ah-ha! I thought the increase in synaptic interaction looked familiar." Three brain scans popped up side by side on the large monitor over her work station, two labelled John Sheppard and one labelled Rodney McKay. "I wasn't here for Rodney's encounter with the ascension machine, so I'll call Carson for a consult later, but my first guess is that you've developed similar abilities. This is what your brain usually looks like--" She pointed to the first scan, then to the second. "--and here's what it looks like now. See the heightened activity in these areas? It's not nearly as pronounced as Rodney's, but it's definitely above normal human levels."
A chill ran up and down John's spine. "I'm not going to ascend, am I?"
Keller bit her lip, looking worried. "I couldn't tell you based on one scan, Colonel. You haven't been anywhere near that ascension machine, have you?"
"No, of course not, that whole room is sealed--" John paused, remembering. "Oh. Oh, for God's sake." The Nisoff. He slapped his face, groaning. "That Ancient artifact from PX4-172. McKay thought it might be an energy-matter converter and had me activate it. Dammit, the timing fits. The dreams started right after we got back."
Smacking him lightly on the shoulder, Keller said, "You really need to stop listening to Rodney when he tells you to touch things."
They were at the farm again, lying on a plaid blanket on the banks of the creek, under the secluded shelter of trees. The spot has been something of a lovers' lane to three generations of Mitchells and Cam had brought John out there when they had been young and stupidly naive.
Cam gazed down at John as he slowly undressed him, stripping off black t-shirt, designer jeans, faded boxers. "You look... different," he said hesitantly, lightly touching the scar from a Wraith feeding hand, mostly hidden by chest hair. "Older."
He'd seen John a few times in recent years, around the SGC and during SG-1's mission to the Pegasus galaxy, so it made sense that his picture of John included the new wrinkles and the faint streaks of silver at John's temples. But how could he have known about the scars? Because Cam knew, in his gut, that they were accurate. He traced a puckered line down John's flank, wondering, "Is this my dream or yours?"
"It's both of ours." Cradling Cam's face in his hands, John drew him down for a tender, unhurried kiss. Their lips met and parted, touching delicately again and again, one kiss flowing into another until Cam was dizzy with want and lost in sensation and memory. Pulling back an inch, John waited until he looked him in the eye, then said with painful honesty and unwavering certainty, "I love you, Cameron Mitchell. Always have."
Cam's heart leapt, thudding with sudden life against his breastbone, until he remembered where he was and fell back to earth. Smiling sadly, he bent to press his forehead against John's, nearly going cross-eyed trying to drink in those beloved features. Their breaths mingled as they inhaled and exhaled together. "I love you too, John. I never really stopped."
"I know, baby, I know. I'm so sorry." John curled an arm behind Cam's neck, rolled him onto his back, and draped himself over Cam like he could hold him down. Stop him from leaving. "If there was a way to make it up to you... But there isn't."
"Of course there isn't," said Cam, stroking a hand down John's back, revelling in the chance to touch him, love him, and be touched and loved in turn. "None of this is real, anyway. It's just my subconscious mind telling me what I want to hear."
John caught his chin and turned him to meet his gaze. "This isn't a dream, Cam, it's real," he said urgently, his fingers digging into the soft underside of Cam's jaw. "You need to believe me, this is real."
It was true that Cam had always been a spiritual kind of guy, willing to take on faith a hell of a lot of things that didn't make logical sense. But he'd spent too many years wrestling with unrequited feelings to undo all that work because of a few nightmares about an old lover, no matter how startlingly vivid and real they felt, or how badly he wanted to trust their lies.
"Give me a kiss goodnight," he whispered, eyelids fluttering closed as he traced the edge of John's ear, his jaw rough with stubble, the soft pout of his lower lip. Memorizing him again through touch. "It's time to wake up, John."
"Wait, just listen. We can stay here, we can come be together when we dream--"
But when Cam jerked away with a fierce, "No, don't ask that of me," John leaned down, looking heartsick, and obeyed without further protest, slanting his mouth on Cam's and prising his lips apart with a forceful tongue. Cam wrapped his arms around John's back and melted under the onslaught, groaning as John possessed his mouth. His dick grew thick and stiff against John's muscled thigh.
"I love you," John rasped, biting at Cam's lips, moving to his chin, his neck, his shoulders, but always returning to his mouth. "I swear I do, you have to believe me." His hand closed around Cam's cock, jacking him until Cam was achingly hard and slick with pre-come.
"John, please, make me come," he begged, his voice shaking.
A drop of sweat dripped from John's chin and landed on Cam's cheek when he shook his head. "Say you believe me first."
Why try to be strong when he wanted so desperately to believe him? "You love me, I believe you, I do. John, please--" His balls grew tight as John jerked him harder, faster, until Cam arched up with a cry, spilling himself on his stomach. He shuddered in the aftermath, dragging John down to bury his face in his shoulder. He'd come, but it had been emotionally hollow and unsatisfying. He still wanted.
"Shh, baby, it's okay..." John cradled him closely, straddling him with his neglected cock still hard against Cam's stomach. The part of Cam that wanted to relive a thousand blowjobs, John's dick heavy on his tongue, semen flooding his mouth, didn't outweigh the part of him that was grieving for what they would never have.
"I don't want to be here any more," he said hoarsely. "I want to wake up."
"Shh, it's okay," murmured John, gently kissing his eyes closed. "It's gonna be okay."
Cam pulled his pillow over his head and wept.
The Nisoff had generously donated the artifact to the Atlantis expedition for further study after John had explained that he was suffering from hallucinations because of a telepathic connection he'd established with the device. Thankfully, while Keller and McKay had both asked after the type and quality of those hallucinations, no one except Teyla had asked after the content.
"It's kind of personal." He shrugged, knowing Teyla would never pry and yet hoping that she might make an exception in this case.
"You can always talk to me, John," she said, ever perceptive.
He thought about it for a moment, flipping through a surfing magazine to keep his hands busy and his eyes averted. "I... don't think I can right now. Maybe one day."
Then John was recalled to Earth because the Wraith were en route with a Hive ship souped up with a fully-charged ZPM. Colonel Carter was there, standing in for Landry instead of off-world with the rest of SG-1 now that she'd been made commander of the USS Hammond. There wasn't time to breathe as they got the F-302s in the air, and John only spared a minute to thank God that Cam wasn't one of the fighters shot down by the Wraith darts.
After it was all over, the Hive destroyed and Atlantis safely landed in San Francisco Bay, he went to Teyla and explained just how much of an idiot he'd been about Cam.
"Perhaps this is something you should be sharing with him," was her advice. She poured him a cup of tea, the steam wafting up to his face, warm and fragrant.
John took the next puddle jumper to Cheyenne Mountain, kicking back in the rear compartment as the Marine on transport duty did the flying. She wasn't terrible, but he still had to fight the instinct to backseat drive.
SG-1 had only just returned from the mission they'd been on when the Wraith attacked, so John hung around the mess and caught up with Cadman and a few of the other ex-Atlantis personnel working at the SGC until he knew Cam had left for the night.
When Cam found him standing outside his apartment, he paled and nearly slammed the door closed, but John pushed his way inside, sweat prickling the back of his neck, his voice unsteady as he said, "I need you to listen to me."
"Hey, Sheppard," Cam replied lightly, as though he hadn't heard him. "Nice job with the Hive ship there." His gaze skittered away from John like a frightened spider.
"Cam," and he walked right up to the other man and caught his shoulders in a firm grip. "Listen to me, please." And for the first time for the rest of his life he said, "I love you, Cameron Mitchell. I always have."
Eyes wide with shock, Cam pulled away and backed into a corner. "Stop. I don't believe you."
John swallowed against the lump in his throat. "I know you don't, and I can't blame you for that. But if you give me a chance..." He took a cautious step forward, hand outstretched. "I love you, Cam, and I know you love me too. Give me a chance to prove it."
Cam's mouth twisted, but there was a spark of new hope in his eyes. "How are you going to do that?"
He brushed Cam's wrist, then trailed his hand up to clasp the back of Cam's neck and pull him close. "I'll wake up in the morning and you'll be there, and you'll wake up in the morning and I'll there," he said. "And it won't be a dream."