Cam drifts awake, becoming slowly conscious of the familiar smell of antiseptics and the scratch of cheap, poly-cotton sheets. He panics for a moment, reliving the despair of believing he might never walk again, but then he breathes slowly, takes stock of his body, the vague pinch of an IV needle in the back of his hand, a pulse-ox monitor clipped to his finger, even the slight pull of tape from the various places where his body is hooked up to an ECG. There's the floating sensation of meds masking pain and injury, but his arms and legs move as he directs them to, though they're weak and shaky. He doesn't feel too badly damaged.
He glances to his right where an airman pushes an empty wheelchair down the hall through the half-open door. There's a window along the wall on his left, through which he sees apple trees, green fruit peeking out amidst green leaves, which makes it more than likely he's in the Academy Hospital. John is slumped in an uncomfortable-looking visitor chair under the window, head tipped back against the wall and looking like a hundred miles of bad road.
"John," says Cam, or tries to. He starts coughing, choking, his throat dry as the desert, and it's his coughing that wakes up his partner.
Blinking away sleep, John stares at him for a moment like he's not quite sure Cam is real, then he's on his feet and crossing the room in one big stride. "Thank God," he says, almost inaudibly, and reaches down to cup Cam's face with both hands. Curling his fingers around John's wrists, Cam tries to pull himself up to meet John's kiss.
"For God's sake, Cam, stay still," John murmurs, his thumbs smoothing over Cam's forehead, gentling the stress-lines between his brows. "Cameron, baby, please--don't move, okay?"
Cam clings to John's wrists to keep him close even though John is doing the opposite of trying to get away. "How--" he croaks, and John pulls away long enough to grab the glass of water sitting on the night stand. Once he's wet his throat and can speak, he asks, "How bad is it?"
"Contusions, minor lacerations, whiplash, concussion," John recites, pressing another kiss to Cam's lips. "The EMTs said you were conscious but disoriented when they found you, and you've been waking up for a few minutes at a time since last night." He laughs a little, but his eyes are dark with fear. It belies the steadiness of his hands, his voice. "You're so goddamn lucky, you know that? Lam says there's no spinal injury."
Thank God. Cam is more relieved than he knows how to express. The thought of being injured like he was before terrifies him. "I crashed?"
John hesitates, then says, "You flipped the Mustang. You don't remember?" His grip on Cam's face tightens momentarily.
"Flipped the... car?" Cam had assumed he'd been in a plane crash. "Oh, God--Brendan!" he gasps, horrified, but John's already shaking his head, reassuring him.
"No, Cam, he's fine, Brendan wasn't in the car." John's hands move to Cam's shoulders to stop him from sitting up. "Take it easy, okay? Please?"
"Brendan wasn't in the car?" Cam tries to hide his wince at the twinge in his back as he eases down onto the bed, but John notices and immediately reaches over to push the call button for the nurse. "Did I hit anyone?"
"No, there was no one else, just you." John presses his lips together in a thin line. "You were on Highway 24, coming back from the cabin. It was raining and the roads were slippery and... you must have spun out, lost control. You could have--" His face twists up like it hurts too much to say the words, and Cam reaches up to touch his cheek. "Don't." He ducks away from Cam, then takes his hands off Cam's shoulders and sits back a few inches, crossing his arms defensively over his chest, a self-imposed distance. "I don't know what I would have done," he says miserably. "I don't know if I could have lived with myself."
"Baby, I'm fine," Cam protests. He is fine, he can feel it now that he's more awake and clear-headed. Things hurt, but they don't hurt that badly. But John's shoulders are hunched, and Cam sighs inwardly because John always takes too much on himself. "John, don't. I'm gonna be fine, okay? It wasn't your fault."
"It was my fault you were there," says John, rough, pained. "It was my idea to take you up to the cabin."
Frowning, Cam tries to recall being at the cabin, or for that matter, driving in the rain. "The cabin? Why were we...?" The former members of SG-1 have a standing invitation to make use of General O'Neill's cabin whenever they have a free weekend, but he and John have never tried sneaking away for some private time on a weekday--if it had even been a weekday. Suddenly he's not sure. "Is it Wednesday or Thursday?"
John stares at him, and Cam sees the shock overtake his confusion. "Cam, today's Sunday," he eventually replies, his eyes huge. "Don't you remember? The accident happened yesterday."
"It's Sunday?" Cam feels very cold suddenly. "What happened to Wednesday?"
"I-I don't know," John stammers, sounding small and scared. "The cabin... You don't remember what happened?"
"I..." Cam rubs his forehead. "I don't know." He's trying to think.
John stands up slowly and Cam has to work at not grabbing hold of him. "I'm, I'm gonna get the doctor, okay?" He backs up, eyes trained on Cam like he's afraid to glance away for even a second, then slips out of the room.
Cam closes his eyes and breathes, clears his mind and tries to think back. There was church on Sunday and work on Monday. Brendan had his weekly play-date with the Martinez kids on Tuesday, which Cam has a clear memory of because Isabella had spilled her grape juice all over Brendan. Wednesday...
Wednesday is a blank.
John comes back with Carolyn, who takes one look at Cam and shoos John out the door. "It's not uncommon for head trauma to cause some memory loss," she says thoughtfully after he explains the amnesia, "though I'm a little concerned you've forgotten three full days prior to the actual accident. I'll run another head CT, make sure there isn't swelling we missed in our initial scans."
Cam swallows hard. "Once the swelling goes down, I'll get the memories back, right?" Three days shouldn't be such a big deal--he's lost time before, in the first few weeks after the crash, when keeping his heart beating was about all his body was capable of doing on its own. But something is nagging at him. The guilt in John's eyes.
"It's likely you will," Carolyn sighs, patting his arm, "though I didn't think your concussion was severe enough to cause memory loss this extensive in the first place, so I can't make any guarantees." They know each other well enough that she doesn't bother to sugar-coat it. "Honestly, Cam, retrograde amnesia might have caused you to block out the accident itself, but 72 hours? That's unusual." She glances down and Cam follows her gaze, and realises he's rubbing at his wrists.
"That's the other thing," she says slowly, taking his left wrist in both hands. Carefully avoiding the IV, her thumb traces over the bruises he's just now noticing. "You have bruises on your wrists and ankles, and they're not from the crash." Cam holds up his right arm, turns it over to see the bruise circling his wrist, a sickly green band. He feels a frisson of fear down his spine. "Someone tied you up, Cam."
"No." It bursts out of him, sharp and loud. The ECG kicks up again as sweat pops out on his forehead. "No. John wouldn't do that." But who else could it have been? "It's not like what you're thinking," he says quickly, needing to get rid of the doubt in her eyes. "I mean, yeah, we play rough sometimes, but John would never hurt me."
Carolyn doesn't seem convinced. "Not on purpose, maybe, but things can get out of hand sometimes, right?" As their doctor, she probably knows more about their sex life than anyone; she knows that John's not much for rules and that Cam likes giving him what he wants, which means their games aren't always as safe as they should be. It wouldn't be the first time she's treated them for sex-related injuries, though this is the first time it's been disquieting and not simply embarrassing.
Forcing himself to relax, Cam shrugs, says as casually as he can manage, "Yeah, I guess, but I really doubt I would've said no to anything he wanted to try." John's the one who really gets off on bottoming, but it's not like they never switch. Cam wouldn't have said no, and even if he'd said no, John wouldn't have forced him. The amnesia is because of the head trauma, it has to be.
"I can check for tearing, if you want," says Carolyn, and her quiet sympathy is too much to take.
"It's been five days," he says desperately. "There's nothing to check... Right?"
"It's up to you, Cam. I'm asking, not telling." Her gaze is steady. "Wouldn't you rather know for sure?" She's right, of course. He once relived over and over the memory of murdering a woman he'd cared for because he was determined to find her killer. He's never been able to leave a stone unturned.
Finally, he nods and allows her to manoeuvre him into the recovery position. Carolyn is mercifully gentle and efficient, and her smile is relieved when she tells him, "You look fine. You look like you haven't bottomed in months, actually."
He snorts a laugh, all the tension draining out of his body. "Told ya," he says, flopping back on his pillow, exhausted. He yawns hugely.
"All right, fine," Carolyn huffs, still smiling. "But you guys really need to be more careful with the bondage. Remember: safe is sexy."
He murmurs yes, ma'am as meek and obedient as he can and she rolls her eyes. Blinking to stay awake a bit longer, he glances at the door.
"I'll send him in," says Carolyn, and opens the door. "Rest up," she adds over her shoulder. "I'll schedule the CT scan for this afternoon."
When John comes in, Cam immediately reaches out a hand, and John practically climbs onto the bed with him. "I'm okay, she's just going to do a scan," he tells him, brushing his lips over John's unshaven cheek, feeling the rough bristles. "This wasn't your fault."
John doesn't answer, just buries his hot face in Cam's neck and hangs on.
* * *
The CT doesn't find anything. There's no swelling, no damage to the temporal lobes that accounts for Cam's missing time. He's sort of worried, because he never likes not knowing, but John's palpable fear and guilt is enough to get him out of the hospital bed the next day. "I can rest up better at home than I can here," he argues, which is a blatant lie when there's a toddler under foot, demanding attention. Thankfully Carolyn and John don't stop him from getting dressed in real clothes.
"Daddy, you sit in the wheelchair because you have a big owie, and I sit on you and then Dad is pushing us!" exclaims Brendan, swinging his weight from the arm of Cam's wheelchair. He seems to really enjoy being pushed around in the chair, though Cam's not sure why, considering the fuss he makes at being put in the stroller. Still, seeing Brendan smiling and engaged is better than yesterday's visit, when Vala had brought him by after the CT scan. Brendan had spent the full hour clinging to Cam, quiet and needy, not having seen his daddy in five days.
"Yep, Daddy's gonna sit like a good boy," John says, easing Cam down into the chair. Acquiescing for the sake of expediency, Cam sits and helps Brendan clamber onto his lap, grinning when he bounces and yells, "Dad, push! Push!"
Carolyn makes him promise to come in if there's a problem or if he starts to remember, then waves good-bye to Brendan as John wheels them out the door. The airman that walks with them out to the parking lot helps Cam into the front passenger seat while John straps Brendan into his car seat, then takes the wheelchair back into the hospital over Brendan's protests.
"It'll be good to be home," Cam sighs, stretching out his legs and gingerly tipping his head back against the headrest. It's comfortable enough, and their Dodge Charger is way more kid-friendly than the Mustang, but it's not the car he and his brother built almost from scratch during high school. He'd overheard John telling Carolyn that the emergency crews had to use the Jaws of Life to get at him, so he's reluctant to ask whether there's anything left of his baby to salvage.
He drowses through the short car ride, awake enough to catch some of Brendan's happy babbling and notice John's hand occasionally brushing his knee, but not aware of the passage of time and rousing fully only when they pull into the driveway. John says, "Wait, let me take Brendan in first, then I'll help you," which earns him an offended glare. Cam struggles out on his own, moving like an old man and cussing in his head the whole time. "Stubborn bastard," John mutters under his breath, and slams his door shut.
Inside Cam is relegated to the couch with the TV remote and a couple of basketball games on the DVR. John keeps Brendan in the kitchen with him as he cleans up the mess from two days of running into the house just long enough to shower and nuke leftovers before heading back to the hospital. He throws together stir-fry veggies and egg noodles and tomato soup for lunch, and pops his head into the den every five minutes to check up on Cam.
Tired, but determined not to fall asleep again, Cam flips between the different games, unable to focus on just one. His gaze wanders the room, then settles on an unfamiliar leather jacket draped over the back of Grandma Becky's rocking chair, and he suddenly remembers that John's old team is in town. It's Keller's father's birthday this week, and McKay had convinced Teyla and Ronon to make a vacation of it to see John as well, an easier trip now that the intergalactic gate bridge between Earth and Atlantis has finally been rebuilt.
Judging by the size, the jacket must belong to Ronon, but Cam has yet to notice a very large and armed Satedan lurking in his house.
John frowns disapprovingly when Cam comes into the kitchen. "Where're Teyla and Ronon at?" Cam asks, confused. McKay and Keller were staying at a hotel, but Teyla and Ronon should have been around somewhere. Cam's pretty sure he remembers making up the guest rooms.
John turns back to the stove, the wooden spatula rattling the pan as he stirs. "They gated back on Saturday. I was with you and Grace had Brendan, so they figured it'd be less stress if I didn't have to worry about house guests."
Cam frowns, because Teyla and Ronon might not have wanted to be a burden on John, but it's strange that they'd leave him alone while his partner was out of commission: he's seen the way they'll circle the wagons when John needs them. "Well, okay, except Ronon forgot his jacket. It's on the rocking chair."
The spatula hangs in the air, John's arm at a stiff angle, then starts up again. "Thanks. I'll make sure McKay takes it back with him." He doesn't turn around again, and Cam watches him for a minute before he sighs and goes back into the den. He's not really sure what's got him on edge, what he expected John to say, but he can't shake the uneasy feeling that he's missed something important. He lowers himself carefully onto the couch, stretching out full-length with an afghan pulled up to his waist, and gives into exhaustion.
If he dreams, he doesn't remember that either, but he wakes up with the realisation that the bruises on his wrists and ankles aren't consistent with consensual bondage. He's been tied up often enough to know the difference between bruises from fighting restraints because that's what gets him off, and bruises from fighting restraints because he needs to get free or his team will die.
He knows the difference.
John comes in to wake him, and Cam allows him to believe he's been asleep the whole time, and answers him with the year, their president, and whether he wants lunch. He's hungry, queasy, and too tired to make an effort to eat, but he sits down at the table and forces a bowl of noodles and another of soup down his gullet.
"How are you feeling?" John asks, the edges of his worry still showing in the solicitous way he ladles more soup before Cam has even asked for seconds. "Your pupils look good."
Cam touches the back of his head where there's a lump the size of a melon, it feels like. "Yeah, I'm okay. My head's clear, 'cept for the amnesia. No headache." He turns his left hand over on the table in front of him, studying the bruise, and glances up to see John has gone dead white. Brendan's playing with his stuffed dog in the doorway between the kitchen and the dining room, so Cam leans into John and asks plainly, "What happened up at the cabin?"
John fiddles with his spoon. "Nothing happened. I mean, it was a spur of the moment thing. I've been so preoccupied with Teyla and Ronon and Rodney that I haven't been able to spend much time with you. So, you know, we decided to go up to the cabin."
"But why can't I remember?"
"I guess you bumped your head pretty hard," says John, aiming for offhand and falling far short. It doesn't help that he can't meet Cam's gaze. "You've had concussions before, you know how it is."
Well, hell, now Cam doesn't know what to think. It's obvious John's hiding something from him, something big enough that John's scared of the consequences of Cam knowing. But consequences for whom, John or Cam? It would be just like John to carry the burden of a secret if it meant protecting Cam. He decides to let it go for the time being, because he has had concussions before and there's a chance the memories will return once he's healed up. Also, a few days might give John time to come clean on his own.
"What happened to the Mustang?" he asks instead, bracing himself for bad news.
"They towed it to a garage," John answers, wincing in anticipation of Cam's woebegone expression. "It's, yeah. It looked pretty bad, Cam, I'm sorry."
Sighing dispiritedly, Cam rubs his forehead with his knuckles. "I want to see her. Find out whether she's a complete loss."
John looks hunted for a brief moment, then smoothes out his face with a bland smile. "Sure, we can do that. Landry gave me a couple extra days off," and Cam remembers now that John had last week off, because Ronon and the others had gated in on Monday, "so how about tomorrow afternoon? If you're feeling up to it." He starts clearing the dishes and packing away the leftover noodles, avoiding Cam's questioning frown, but it's really Brendan running over with a colouring book that stops Cam pushing for more. Tomorrow is soon enough for answers.
That night Cam sleeps fitfully, his body aching from the accident and his mind whirling with confusion and trepidation. John is no better, curling up even closer than usual, as though Cam might slip away if he stops holding on for an instant. They're both awake at 0300 hours, fragile and exhausted. It's the hour for confessions.
John traces gentle fingers down the bridge of Cam's nose, touching his lips, his chin, his throat. "I need you," he says, heartbreakingly raw and honest. "So much. I don't know what I'd do if you were gone."
"I'm here," Cam murmurs into John's hair, immensely grateful he's alive, that John's safe beside him, and Brendan's fast asleep in his little bed across the hall. "I'm not going anywhere, I promise."
John tucks his face in the crook between Cam's neck and shoulder. "I'm holding you to that," he whispers. He's silent for a few minutes, then says, "Cam? Can you... I want you to call me, you know..."
Cam knows what he wants. "Sweetheart," he says, the simple endearment suffused with tenderness for this man he's bound himself to, in heart and mind and deed, if not on paper. "John, sweetheart, I'm here, I'm here." John gasps wetly against his neck, and Cam tries to roll over and wrap both arms around him. But John's already got a hold on him, one strong arm pinning his chest, one leg thrown across Cam's hips.
"Don't," John croaks, his voice muffled against Cam's throat. "Don't move, okay? Just let me." Willing to do pretty much anything at this point, Cam relaxes into John's embrace and whispers loving nonsense in his ear until they finally drop off.
* * *
John is almost back to his old self the next morning, the tension around his eyes and mouth mostly gone. He moves around the kitchen quickly and without hesitation as he cooks breakfast, scrambling eggs and slicing up fruit without turning around to check on Cam every five minutes. He grumbles briefly about the IOA as he updates Cam on the new training program he and Jackson are implementing for their hand-picked Atlantis recruits, but he's clearly undeterred by political shenanigans. Brendan giggles over his Cheerios, taking his cue from John's mood as he always does.
Despite Cam still not having a clue what happened last week, it's a relief to see his family easing back into a normal routine. They spend the morning catching up on housework neglected since last weekend. Well, John does housework; Cam's sole task is to fold the clean laundry when it comes out of the dryer. Brendan helps, matching his patterned and coloured socks as best as he can. It takes a while, but Brendan seems to have inherited Cam's persistence and John's surfer Zen--strengths which Cam suspects will lead to a brilliant career in early childhood education or maybe bonsai gardening--and he eventually whittles down the pile to six plain white socks and a lone blue one. Plopping onto the ground with a suitably dramatic sigh, Brendan demands kisses from his daddies for a job well done.
Vala drops by at lunch, ostensibly to check on Cam, but he suspects Landry told her to work from home for the afternoon simply to get her out of the Mountain. Vala's team has been on stand-down for over a week, which means she's bored and fidgety and starting to find creative ways to alleviate her boredom.
While she's become friends with Carolyn and enjoys pestering Hailey in her lab, Vala no longer has Teal'c to play with now that he spends most of his time on Chulak with his newborn granddaughter. Teal'c was really the one to indulge Vala's more whimsical notions of fun, and Cam knows she misses that. Jackson has been much better at making time for Vala since they've made their relationship official, and there are fewer twenty-hour days than when Cam first met the man, but with John off work and the next batch of recruits due in less than a week, Jackson is picking up the slack.
They eat in the kitchen, John and Brendan on one side of the table, Cam and Vala opposite them, and John serves up brown rice and leftover stew and broccoli that's boiled almost to a mush, because it's the one green vegetable Brendan actually likes.
"You're a strange, strange child," Cam mutters, poking at his own broccoli. He'd rather have spinach.
Even though John's actually on base more often than Vala, since his job seldom requires going off-world, Vala is still Cam's best source for SGC gossip. She gives Cam the scoop on SG teams returning from missions naked or high or both, Dave Dixon's long-standing feud with the infirmary nurses, Reynold's beef with Walter's new security system for the iris, and the doe-eyed airman that's been trailing after John with hearts in his eyes for the past three weeks.
"You were going to mention lover-boy to me once you got back from your honeymoon, right?" Cam smirks, entertained by John's obvious aggravation.
"Yeah, I was going to send you a postcard from Vegas," he drawls, rolling his eyes. "Dear Cam, I've run off with a kid who can barely shave and we're getting hitched at the Graceland chapel. P.S. I'm wearing white."
Cam throws his head back and laughs, then grunts in sudden pain as his body protests the sudden movement. "Ah, God," he groans, keeping still until the throbbing in his forehead lessens enough that he can pry his eyes open. "I'm okay," he pants, forcing his fist to unclench from around his fork. "I'm okay, John, really," he says again, seeing his partner hovering over him. "Just... no sudden movements for the next little while, I think."
"Sounds like a plan," John quickly agrees, though right now Cam thinks he'd agree to the sky being pink and purple polka-dots or Woolsey joining them for a threesome if it meant Cam would stop hurting. The relaxed movements and easy smiles of this morning are gone, replaced by yesterday's guilt and fear, John's worry etched deep in the lines of his forehead.
Thankfully Vala breaks the tension before Cam tries to give John a big hug or something equally embarrassing. "Time for dessert!" she exclaims, offering up a Tupperware of freshly baked macaroons. "Your grandmother's recipe," she says with not a little pride, watching keenly as Cam screws up his courage to try one. "Go on, they're not poisoned."
"Mmm, wow!" He takes another bite. "These are really good!" he mumbles, his mouth full. He didn't think Vala had a culinary bone in her body, but apparently she's serious about giving the domestic goddess thing another shot. "I gotta say, Vala, I'm impressed. Grandma Francine would be proud." He thinks maybe Vala and Jackson will want to come along the next time they visit the farm. Teal'c and Carter too, if they're Earth-side. His parents, his mom especially, would like that.
Cam's enthusiasm for the macaroons convinces Brendan he wants one too, begging and pleading with big eyes until Vala hands one to him. He smiles gap-toothed at her and says, "Please and thank you!" then proceeds to make a sticky mess of his hands and face eating it. Vala beams, delighted.
When Brendan's finished demolishing his macaroon, he reaches a hand out for more, blinking in confusion when Cam snags the container and passes it over to John. "One more cookie, pretty please?" he asks hopefully.
"No more for you, sorry," John says, putting the lid back on the Tupperware. When Brendan starts whining, he sighs and says, "Okay, it's definitely nap-time." Brendan has grown out of needing regular naps, but that means he now gets fussy earlier in the day.
Cam mops up their son's hands and face with a clean, damp towel. "Say bye-bye to Vala," he tells Brendan, which works as a distraction because Brendan takes kissing people good-bye very, very seriously. He hugs chubby arms around her neck and smacks his lips against her cheek with a "mwah!" that has Vala cooing over him.
"What an adorable child," she sighs, pressing both hands to her breast with a sentimental smile. "If I were a cannibal, I would most certainly eat him up."
Amused, John heads upstairs with Brendan, leaving Cam to close the door behind Vala. After a moment of hesitation, Cam grabs the downstairs baby monitor and follows her out to the car. "Vala," he calls out, jogging down the porch steps.
Vala has the car door open, but she turns around with a slight frown. "Have I forgotten something?"
"No, I just--I wanted to ask you something." Cam bites his lip, not quite sure how to explain. "You know how you asked if there was any permanent damage from the crash? And I said, no, I was fine, no big deal?" When Vala raises an expectant eyebrow, clearly unsurprised that Cam would fudge the truth about the extent of his injuries, he figures: the hell with it, why pussy-foot his way around the issue when Vala's already been there, done that, and got the t-shirt? "So, yeah. I have amnesia."
"Amnesia? From the car accident?" Vala's surprise quickly turns confused. "But you know who you are," she says, frowning. "You know who I am. We've just now spent two hours having a nice chat about a dozen different people you know."
Cam grimaces. "It's not global amnesia, it's... I can't remember anything from Wednesday to when I woke up Sunday morning."
"Well, well. What an interesting conundrum," says Vala, and it's only because they'd served on the same team for two years that Cam can hear the worry underneath the flippant tone. "You're aware, are you not, that the accident only happened on Saturday evening?"
"Yeah, I know." He turns the volume up a notch on the baby monitor, hears John coaxing Brendan to do a number two on the toilet and Brendan adamantly insisting he didn't need to go. Potty training is an ongoing battle between parents and child in the Sheppard-Mitchell household. "Did you guys talk to me at all on Wednesday?"
"Yes, of course I spoke with you." She tips her head to one side. "You rang Daniel's office in the afternoon and asked if we'd watch Brendan for the evening. Then you came over around 1800 hours to drop him off. You don't remember any of that?" When Cam shakes his head, Vala's gaze turns inwards. "You did seem unusually agitated," she finally says, absently twirling her keys. "But you wouldn't explain what the problem was, simply that John had left with Ronon and that you needed to track them down."
"'Track them down'?" he echoes. "Those were my exact words?"
"You said, and I quote, 'John's run off with Ronon, I gotta track them down.' I asked what was wrong but you wouldn't tell me. You said you would take care of it."
"Take care of what?" Cam can't make heads or tails out of what Vala's telling him. "God, what the hell is he hiding from me?"
"Ooh," Vala says suddenly, eyes widening. "You don't suppose Sheppard and Ronon are having an affair, do you?"
"They're not having an affair," he growls, fierce and angry, the denial burning through him so hot that he's amazed his shirt doesn't catch fire. Vala is taken back by his vehemence, but after a moment her face softens, her expression turning almost... sympathetic. He can't look at her, has to stare out across the street at their neighbour's mailbox.
"Come on, Vala, be serious," he scoffs, still turned away. "This is John we're talking about. He would never cheat on me." John is one of the most intensely loyal people Cam has ever known. The very notion of infidelity is antithetical to who John is.
Still, a tiny voice of insecurity that's been growing louder and louder since yesterday pipes up to remind him that, hey, it's not like John and Ronon don't have a history. Cam knows they used to have a thing, though how serious it was or how long they were together aren't details he's ever wanted to know. Doesn't need to know. Is it possible John still has feelings for Ronon? Sure, maybe. But whether he does or not, John wouldn't cheat. He wouldn't.
If Cam feels a sudden pang in his chest it's because he was in a car accident two days ago and his body's stiff and aching, nothing more.
"John called us late Wednesday night--really, it was early Thursday, nearly 0200," says Vala, her tone subdued. "He said that you and he were staying at the cabin for a couple of days, and could we please drop Brendan off at Grace's house. So I dropped him off in the morning, and Grace mentioned to me that John had asked her to keep Brendan until Saturday. Of course, she ended up keeping him through to Sunday, since you got into the car accident and John was with you."
Grace Washington, a former Air Force sergeant who lives five houses down the street, has been Brendan's baby-sitter since Cam brought home a 13-month-old child from an alternate universe. She has plenty of experience, having raised three children of her own, and she's almost always available. It doesn't hurt that she used to work at the SGC and so is cognizant that Cam and John may occasionally be required to run off to save the world in the middle of the night.
But no matter how reliable she is or how much fun Brendan has with her, Cam finds it impossible to believe that he and John would have left their son with a baby-sitter for three days just so they could have adult fun-time at the cabin. No, there must have been more going on.
"Mitchell," Vala says sharply, getting his attention. She jerks her chin at the house. "John."
John is standing on the porch, arms crossed over his chest, an unreadable expression on his face. "Vala, you're still here," he says flatly.
"I was just leaving!" she calls back with a cheerful grin. She pats Cam on the arm and gets in her car. "Let me know if you need anything, okay?" she tells him, still grinning, but with a serious note in her voice.
Cam watches her drive away rather than face John, afraid of what will come out of his mouth if he tries to speak. He hears John coming down the steps behind him and stop only a foot away. "Brendan wants you," says John quietly. "He won't go down until you come."
Upstairs Cam cuddles Brendan for a few minutes, willing to indulge his son now that he realises he'd essentially been abandoned by both his parents for three days. "You're sleepy, aren't ya," Cam murmurs, rocking Brendan in his arms as though he were still an infant. "Nap-time for you, kiddo."
"You stay and nap with me?" Brendan asks, his little fingers clenched in Cam's shirt.
"No, Dad and I are going to go see the Mustang, remember?" says Cam, keeping his voice soft and soothing. "Grace will be here when you wake up, and we'll be home before Dora the Explorer, I promise." He keeps going, rambling on about The Backyardigans, about colouring a new picture for Grandma and Grandpa, allowing the sound of his voice to lull Brendan to sleep.
When he's down for the count, Cam kisses his forehead and whispers, "I love you, baby boy. I didn't mean to be gone for so long." There's a choked off sound at the bedroom door and he glances up in time to see John escaping down the hall. But Cam stays where he is, with his son asleep in his arms, and doesn't go after him.
* * *
"It's gonna take a lot of work to put her back to rights," says Helen, the mechanic who's showing Cam the Mustang. "But it's not really as bad as it looks."
"If you say so," Cam says doubtfully, because it looks horrific. His poor baby. But as they walk around the Mustang where it's up on lifts and Helen points out what's okay and what needs to be repaired, he realises she's probably right. The roof and driver-side door are a complete loss, but the rest of the body is salvageable, the chassis is sound, and the engine managed to escape relatively unscathed. The question is whether he can invest the time and money into fixing her up when they really should be looking into another family car. "Let me talk this over with my partner," he tells Helen.
"Take your time," she says, tucking her clipboard under one arm. "I'll be in the office if you need me."
John's staring mournfully at the Mustang, his hands shoved deep in the front pockets of his jeans. "What's the estimate?" he asks when Cam walks up to him.
"A lot," Cam says shortly. "Even if I do all the work myself, the parts alone are going to eat up my budget for car maintenance for the year." He's never been good at finances, but having Brendan has forced him to start budgeting for everything in a massive Excel spreadsheet. "It's not worth it."
"You know I can afford it," John mutters, sounding sad like he always does whenever the issue of money comes up. Call it pride, call it a distrust of wealth, but Cam refuses to touch the bank account John set up for him last year. If John wants a trust fund for Brendan, Cam's fine with that--he's just not going to use John's mother's estate to fix up his sports car.
Reaching up to pat the busted fender, Cam tries to let go of the vague plans he'd had for road trips when Brendan was older, for teaching him to drive in the Mustang. "Bye, girl," he says, trying not to completely lose it and break down in manly tears over a hunk of metal.
"For God's sake, Cam, just let me pay for it already!" John paces in a tight circle, frustrated. "You love this car. Your brother loves this car. Brendan loves this car."
Cam glares at him. "I'm not letting you pay for my car." He takes a step back and pivots on his heel. "I'm gonna see if the garage wants to buy it from me." He hears John swear, feels a hand grabbing his arm, spinning him around, and he's suddenly flashing on a memory of struggling, fighting, taking a fist to the gut, falling, someone pinning him to the ground. He panics, shoves John away from him, gasping for air. "Don't touch me," he chokes out, voice shaking with remembered fear. "Don't, just stay back. Don't touch me."
John jerks backward, shocked, the colour draining from his face. "Cam?" he says, sounding frightened. He keeps his hands out at his sides, palms open to show he's unarmed.
But Cam can't answer him, not yet, when all his instincts are clamouring for him to run, find Brendan, protect him, go to ground somewhere safe. "What the fuck happened to me?" He swallows to keep down the rising nausea and rubs his mouth with the back of his hand, wiping the sweat off his upper lip. "Why can't I remember?"
"Maybe we should get you back to the hospital." John inches closer, and Cam has to fight down the urge to turn and flee. "Cam, just-- Shit, okay." He stands frozen. "You need Lam to take another look at you."
Shaking his head, Cam edges around him until he's got a clear path to the car. He just wants to go home, check on Brendan. He gets into the back seat, needing the barrier, and watches as John goes into the garage's tiny office. Probably to do exactly what Cam doesn't want him to do.
When John gets into the car, he asks no questions, stays quiet the whole drive home, as if the slightest noise will spook Cam into hightailing it for cover. Maybe it will. Remnants of the flashback lurk in the corners of his vision, shadowy glimpses of menacing figures. He's out of the car before John can put it in park on the driveway, unlocks the front door with keys that jangle in his hand, then hurries inside. It takes a lot of effort to not shut the door in John's face.
Brendan is playing airplanes with Grace in the den, but he comes running when he sees Cam, laughing and happy, and it's the best therapy in the world to swing him up into his arms. Cam ignores the twinge in his back and breathes in Brendan's baby sweat and the apple he's been eating.
When John comes in, Cam clutches his son closer and tries not to panic.
He's dreaming. Remembering.
He arrives home early from work, having decided to make something really spectacular for dinner. There's a part of him still trying to win approval from John's friends, trying to prove that John made the right choice in giving up Atlantis. He wants Teyla and Ronon and McKay to know that John's got Cam to take care of him, to keep him safe and happy and loved. Plus, Ronon and McKay might be softened up with a good meal, and Teyla might appreciate the effort.
He ends up parking on the street a few houses down because McKay's rental car is already in Cam's driveway; that, plus the fact that he'd oiled the hinges of the kitchen door last weekend so the old squeak is gone, is probably why John and his friends don't hear him come into the house through the back.
Cam hears them on the baby monitor sitting on the kitchen counter, so they must be upstairs, either in Brendan's room or in John and Cam's bedroom across the hall.
"I still think we should tell Jennifer and Teyla," says McKay, loud and agitated. Cam doesn't need the baby monitor to hear him. "I don't like this, this, this sneaking around behind their backs."
"You know they won't agree," and that's Ronon, his voice a low rumble that the monitor barely picks up. "Better they don't know until we need them."
"Ronon's right," says John. "I don't like it either, but we can't afford to take any chances." His tone is hard, uncompromising. Cam hasn't heard him sound like that in months, not since he came back from Pegasus. Like he's going to war.
Cam should stop eavesdropping and let John know he's home. He should call out.
[some unspecified time later...]
Cam looks him right in the eyes, and says very quietly, "You know, Carolyn thought that maybe I'd been raped?"
"What? No! God, no!" John's horror is genuine and unpractised, and Cam is almost faint with relief. "God, Cam. No." John presses a hand to his eyes for a moment, drags in a breath that's dangerously ragged. "It wasn't like that, I swear."
"Then what was it like?" Cam asks. Pleads, even, because he'll take any explanation over goddamn rape.
But John shakes his head, nostrils flaring as he sucks in air and tries to steady himself. "I can't. I'm sorry, I can't." He pushes away from the table with a screech of chair legs against linoleum. "Just... trust me, okay?"
"I need to know why I can't fucking remember," says Cam, frustrated. "You can't just leave me in the dark!" He trusts John, he does, and if John says it wasn't like that, then Cam believes him. But he doesn't understand how John can leave him like this, jumping at shadows and clearly traumatised. He needs answers.
"I can't tell you," John whispers. "I... I don't think you'll forgive me for what happened. I don't think you'll ever trust me again."
"John, for God's sake! What happened that was so bad that you can't tell me?" There's a part of him, cold and distant, that catalogues all the possibilities worse than being raped: he's killed someone, he's raped someone, John's killed or raped someone. Something happened to Brendan, something so heinous that Cam's blocking it from his memory. "Tell me, John. Please. It can't be worse than what I'm already thinking."
"I'm sorry," he whispers, shaking his head. "I can't, I'm sorry." Then John's gaze goes past him, falls on Brendan where he's standing motionless a few feet away, blue eyes wide as he stares at them, his stuff dog hugged to him; he may not understand the conversation, but he definitely senses the tension in the room.
"Daddy?" he says, and Cam's out of his chair on a heartbeat, scooping up Brendan and carrying him away.
"We're okay, baby boy," he murmurs, pressing his lips against his son's forehead, taking the stairs three at a time until they're barricaded in the nursery. Safe. "I'm here, Brendan. Daddy's here, Daddy loves you."
"I love you too, Daddy," says Brendan, so sweetly, so unreservedly, so goddamn trustingly that Cam barely chokes down an hysterical sob.