Disclaimer: Stargate: Atlantis and all related items do not belong to me, only the story and its related original ideas and characters are mine. No copyright infringement intended.
Spoilers: Nothing specific, but it’s set around the end of season 3/start of season 4.
Feedback: Is a gift. It’s nice to give :)
Prompt: 78. Mitchell/Sheppard. Atlantis is the last evacuation point when Earth is destroyed.
Notes: Written for the apocalypse_kree ficathon. It’s kind of episodic and not really what I’d intended it to be, but it wrote itself that way and I had no say in the matter!
(Also, I’m taking that Miko is Miko Kusanagi)
* * *
Life from the Ashes
* * *
Cam ducks behind the nearest doorway and winces as his injured arm arcs out into the hallway, letting the grenade fly. He tucks himself inside and scrunches his eyes closed, as he waits for the explosion.
There are shouts, unintelligible sounds and undistinguishable smells surrounding him and he wonders, not for the first time, what the hell he’s still fighting for. There’s nothing left, nothing left that he wants to remember or preserve anyway. He wonders if he’d feel the same way if he still had Daniel, if he still had sound of the man’s voice explaining the wonder found in the history of preserved ruins. Because that’s all that they have left of Earth now; ruins and destruction and a slowly building cult and Daniel would certainly have had something to say about that.
But he really doesn’t want to start thinking about Daniel again.
He waits until the dust has cleared, waits through the silence that always follows, and listens. He’s not stupid enough to believe he got them all, isn’t quite ready to walk out that door and hope that there will be a way out. He’s been down that route before and if the damn Ori weren’t so fucking amused by his pointless attempts at blowing them the hell up, he knows he’d be dead already.
He indicates to his only companion to follow and edges out into the hallway; glances left, right, and takes a tentative step out. He’s reminded a little of the tales that he’d heard of Ronon, wonders if he understands even a fraction of what the man went through in his years as a runner, or if Cam’s just kidding himself and Ronon would be offended by the comparison.
He doesn’t have much time to worry about it, though, because he senses them behind him even before the pain hits and the darkness claims him.
* * *
Cam wakes with a gasp, his heart pounding in his chest and the almost-smell of gunfire still flaring his nostrils. He shakes his head, takes a moment to inhale his surroundings, the taste of re-used air thick in his throat.
They’ve been travelling for weeks now, taking their time to hide in some places, to help in others and to fight where they can, but it never seems to end. He doesn’t know how long they should stagger their path, doesn’t know if he should even continue towards Atlantis, because he can’t take the Ori there. He won’t ruin one more galaxy, won’t destroy all that’s left of Earth and bring even more destruction on Pegasus. Even if seeing the Wraith, the Replicators and the Ori destroying each other is something they’d all love to watch, he knows that they’d only have to deal with whoever came out on top.
They haven’t seen anything of the Ori in over three weeks, haven’t even had a sniff of danger in their last few attempts at putting down for repairs. His crew is a sorry lot, people he scavenged along the way that hadn’t quite gone mad with the fighting yet, or just accepted the word of the Ori, but they’re all he’s got, and trying to captain a fucking spaceship with only a crew of nine isn’t easy.
He takes sleep when he can get it, keeps one eye open and an ear (literally) to the ground in case one of them turns, in case they have a spy in their midst. Maybe it’s the ‘once bitten, twice shy’ thing, but Cam will never forget the look on Sergeant Coopers face right before he figured out the man was double crossing him, that look behind his eyes that said ‘I’m sorry, I had to’ right before Cam shot him.
There’s a hardness to him and silence about him now; almost an impatient kind of waiting lurking beneath the surface. He thinks he should feel alive, but the half-finished Daedalus’ class ship that hadn’t even been named before Cam stole it and hightailed it off Earth is filled with hopelessness. Ship of the Damned, he’s named it; even if he won’t demoralise his already-near-suicidal crew by telling them that.
He takes the stairs to the bridge one step at a time, doesn’t like going any other way than by foot, because it gives him something to do, and hopes that Marshall isn’t still there. The man’s a loose cannon, a maniac that’s so close to going bat shit crazy on his best days that Cam likes to avoid him as much as possible and wonders what it says about him that he’d leave Marshall behind if he could go back and do it all again. On his off days, Cam thinks about spacing him. On his not-quite-so-off days he wonders how close he is to actually doing it.
When he enters the bridge to see Peters and Cross lying in pools of their own blood, Cam finds out that he’s pretty damn close after all.
* * *
He hovers around a nearby planet for three days before he thinks about moving closer. He figures he might have stayed there indefinitely if he hadn’t woken from a restless nap, hunched over the controls, to find three jumpers staring him in the face through the front view screen. The beeping that woke him continues until he taps the button, clears his rusty vocal cords, and barks, “What?”
“Well, you’ve been sitting out here for a while now and we get kinda suspicious about hovering space craft,” a lazy drawl responds and there’s a hitch in Cam’s breath when it hits him that he’s really made it. “We thought we’d bring about the introductions.”
Cam nods, forgetting the man can’t see him, and lets out a huff of laughter that sounds more like a soft, painful keening sound and says, “Sheppard. How’s it goin’?”
* * *
Cam’s not stupid, despite liking to thicken up his accent and play it at times, and even space madness, or whatever the hell it is he likely has gnawing at the back of his mind, doesn’t hide the caution in Sheppard’s voice as they arrange to let the Jumpers board. Cam has a moment of maddened hilarity when he thinks that maybe he should have cleaned up for his guests, maybe the blood would have come out if he’d tried a little longer, hadn’t stopped when his own hands were so scraped and raw that he was just adding to the mess.
He doesn’t move to greet them, doesn’t even leave his chair. He feels light-headed and weak and doesn’t think it’s just the lack of food – he’s had plenty now that he’s alone, just had no inclination to actually eat. He thinks it might just be the little bud of hope that slowly blossoming in the back of his mind that’s setting him off balance.
When Sheppard and the rest of his team appear in the doorway, Cam lifts a battered hand and half waves/half salutes. He tries to give them a little smirk, too, but the look of horror on Sheppard’s face tells him that his facial muscles clearly aren’t responding the way he wants and he must look like shit anyway. He makes himself feel better by thinking that he can barely remember how to smile, so maybe that’s the problem.
He pushes himself to his feet, the weakness and pain making him wonder when the last time he moved actually was. The water bottles next to him are all empty and he barely has a moment to think that maybe he should have tried a little harder to take care of himself before he collapses.
He expects the floor, but finds himself in Sheppard’s arms first. He wonders if the man acquired superhuman speed since Cam saw him last, or if his perception of time is just shot to hell, because he’s pretty damn sure the man was across the other side of the bridge a few minutes ago.
Cam tries to smirk again and manages to mumble, “You’re supposed to buy me dinner first,” before he passes out.
* * *
He wakes to the gentle murmur of voices and an almost imperceptible hum in the back of his mind. His mind feels sluggish and his body won’t cooperate, but he figures he has to be alive if the burning in his throat is anything to go by.
Slowly Cam opens his eyes, blinks rapidly at the light and tries to turn his head. He can tell from the muted lighting that it must be evening and he’s not so far gone that he doesn’t remember arriving in Pegasus and collapsing into John Sheppard’s arms, so he knows he’s in the Atlantis infirmary.
There’s someone sitting by his bed and it takes him a moment to realise that it’s Sam. He takes a deep breath and has to choke back tears, because it’s Sam and he has to take a minute to let it sink in that she’s really there.
He turns his gaze to the pretty woman approaching his bed when Sam jerks to attention next to him. She blinks rapidly and he watches as her eyes widen, filled with pain, grief almost unimaginable, before settling on relief and happiness. She tries to smile at him, he can see that she tries, but he must look like hell still, because she’s close to breaking and he doesn’t think he’s ever seen her look at him that way before. Stupidly didn’t really think that she cared enough about him to ever look at him that way.
“Hey,” he manages, before coughing himself sick.
He isn’t sure how long passes, or how many tests have been run, before he sees Sam again, but this time he’s sitting up, arguing with the pretty doctor about getting the hell out of bed when she walks back into the room. He falls silent the moment he sees her and he can almost hear the doctor’s unspoken thought about wishing she’d invited Sam into the room earlier to get him to shut up.
This time the greeting’s hers and Cam knows he’ll never live down the fact that he falls flat on his ass when he tries to go to her, but he’s too busy pulling her into a hard hug when she tries to help him up to care about anything else.
They sit on the floor for a long time, rocking each other back and forth, and all Cam can do is murmur, “I’m so sorry” repeatedly into her ear. He wants to tell her that Daniel and Vala are on the Damned, that they just snuck off somewhere to cause trouble, wants to tell her that Teal’c is looking out for them and that, of course, O’Neill made it, too.
But all he can do is apologise for not being enough.
* * *
Keller (his pretty doctor) insists on bed rest and physiotherapy and many other things that are so familiar to Cam that he starts to wonder what the hell he did in his life to deserve going through all of this twice. But he knows there are others far worse off and tries not to think of the eight bodies he cleaned off the floor a few months ago, or the grim satisfaction he felt playing executioner to number nine.
By the time he’s up and moving again, his relief has turned bitter in his mouth. He hasn’t seen Sam since the first morning he woke up, hasn’t had any visitors other than Keller and her friendly nurse, Juno. He’s under guard and the world feels different around him.
Keller explained gene therapy to him, explained that it was now obligatory for all personnel. He knows that what she’s not saying is that he only received it himself because Sam must have insisted. He’s an unknown entity to a people who’ve lost their entire world and he wants to scream and shout that it was his world, too, that he lost people, too, and he had to live and survive in it for a lot longer than any of them. But he won’t, because he knows damn well he’d do the same in their place.
His military escort consists of two men he’s never seen before and he’s pretty sure that’s the point. He’s named them ‘Smiley’ and ‘Gonzo’, because the small one never smiles and the other one just looks like a Gonzo.
They trail him slowly, about five feet behind and he likes to think they’re just there for his protection, because then it’ll feel less like he’s been captured after all. He wanders through the corridors, ignoring the ache in his weakened legs and soon finds himself on a balcony in a spire some way away from the control tower.
There are more lights in Atlantis now than there ever have been before. He knows that’s partly due to the two half charged ZPMs the SGC were lucky enough to find – the one that got the survivors to Pegasus and the one they were able to send through with the final wave of evacuees – and partly because they need more of the city operational now.
He isn’t sure of exactly what happened in those final days when O’Neill descended on the SGC, handing out orders and taking over when they lost General Landry. He remembers only the minutes rushing past as he briefed civilians, divided them into groups, told them what he could, what they needed to know, and tried not to think about the fact that the only ones they were able to save were the ones who knew where to come; families and friends to those who worked on the Stargate project.
He remembers when Jeannie Miller and her family had materialised outside the ‘Gate room just when they were about to close the wormhole to Atlantis, Jeannie murmuring, ‘Mer really wasn’t kidding’ and her daughter exclaiming how ‘cool’ everything was through her tears. He had the death of the four soldiers he abandoned on his conscience for having made sure the Millers made it through the Stargate and he remembers thinking of how he couldn’t save his own family and being both bitter and pleased that McKay had thought of a way to preserve his.
They evacuated 217 in total and Cam knows that’s a lot, knows that they might not have had time to save any of them, but 217 out of the population of an entire planet just isn’t enough. He’d tried to save another nine of them and ended up arriving in Pegasus alone, the rubble of the Earth behind him a testament to how Cameron Mitchell says goodbye.
He jumps and almost falls over, his pride taking another dent when Sheppard has to slowly lower him to the floor. Cam notes that his guard dogs have disappeared and that Sheppard is sitting next to him holding out a tray of food.
“I bought you dinner,” he says with a smirk and Cam laughs for the first time in over nine months.
* * *
The balcony becomes a nightly ritual. It’s not far from his new quarters and he tries not to take it to heart that he’s in a different section of the city to anyone who had been stationed on Atlantis before the attack. He understands their wariness and their need to preserve the command structure they’ve always known and how the changes will happen slowly.
He’s had time to talk with Sam now, time to understand the protocols and emergency rules and regulations they put in place when they were suddenly left with the only survivors of Earth and no way to figure things out. He figures that the Atlantis expedition was pretty damn lucky to have had Elizabeth Weir on the first mission out.
“So tell me again,” Cam says, picking at the remnants of John’s not-quite-turkey sandwich and trying not to let his mood dip again. He’s trying really hard to be ‘normal’ and he’d glad that at least Sheppard has the decency to let him get away with it sometimes. “How did you manage to break it?”
“I didn’t break it!” John protests and Cam smirks, laughing when the man almost pouts at him.
“Yeah, sure, you didn’t.”
“I didn’t! It was Madison.”
“Uh-huh,” Cam nods. “And why was she in McKay’s lab again?”
“I…she was just looking around.” Cam stares at him in amusement until John rolls his eyes and chuckles. There’s a brief silence before John continues. “So, you think about what I said?”
Cam takes a deep breath, knows that John’s given him time on this one, Sam too, but he just isn’t sure he’s ready. “Not sure yet, Shep.”
“Offer isn’t gonna to disappear.” John shrugs and Cam knows that it’s been recommended as part of his therapy sessions, some attempt to give him something to do with his time and if he didn’t know someone would be babysitting him and writing reports he might actually agree without thinking about it. “You can always come on a few routine missions with us first, maybe go with Lorne to Pyarta tomorrow, if you like.”
Cam frowns. “Isn’t that the planet they like to paint people?”
John smirks. “Yup.”
“Did you tell Lorne that?”
“Lorne likes to paint,” John says innocently.
“You didn’t tell him that ‘painting people’ literally meant painting on people, did you?”
John shrugs. “Lorne likes Parrish, too.”
Cam laughs deeply and vows to be in the ‘Gate room when Lorne’s team return, but damned if he’s joining the mission himself. “I’ll wait this one out, thanks.” He frowns and looks at John. “Wait, aren’t you meant to be at the council meeting tonight?”
“Sam’s gonna kill you.”
“What? Rodney went in my place.”
“How the heck did you manage that one? McKay hates those things.”
John smirks. “Yeah, but he’s really bad at poker.”
“Remind me of that next time I decline an invite.”
“Next time I’ll get Ronon to invite you and there won’t be an option to decline.” John smirks at him and Cam finds himself just staring at the man, thinking that maybe he did a few things right in this life after all.
* * *
Cam has bad days and really, really bad days. He wondered at first, if maybe he hadn’t gone a little insane on the trip over. There had been weeks left all but alone on Earth, fighting for his life, and then months alone on a spaceship, trying to get the image of the dead out of his mind.
He doesn’t see Sam often, knows that she has a lot on her plate, knows that there are things she has to spend her time on, but mostly he knows that he’s a reminder of everything she’s lost and everything that he can’t give back. He understands that it’s her guilt that’s keeping her away, but doesn’t explain that he doesn’t blame her for wishing he was someone else.
It’s when he’s at his worst that Sheppard has a habit of finding him. He stopped tucking himself away in isolated corners in the middle of nowhere when he realised that Atlantis had a distinct bias towards the other Colonel and John was going to find him anyway.
So it’s always the same balcony that Cam seeks out, the same angle of moonlight that glints off John’s eyes when he tries to use them to replace the words he can’t say. Cam’s never been particularly eloquent himself, but Sheppard’s all but monosyllabic when he tries to talk about things that make him uncomfortable. The thing Cam likes the most is that sometimes they sit in silence, just staring at the night, drinking and not bothering to talk about whatever Cam’s said or done that makes one of them think his next step will be over the edge and into the waves below.
It’s weeks later, when Cam realises that thought hasn’t entered his mind in a long time, that he wonders why John bothers to turn up at all anymore. Maybe it’s the routine, or maybe Cam’s lucky and John’s found the same sense of home in him that he’s found in John.
* * *
Some nights, they sit in silence.
Sometimes they talk about football and ice cream and classic cars and Ferris Wheels.
And sometimes John brings alcohol. Cam wonders if he does it as his own kind of therapy and what the pretty little psychologist would think of his technique. Either way, it usually works and by that time Cam’s too far gone to care.
“I was a fucking walking entertainment system by the end. Just plug it in and watch it try to blow shit up,” he says bitterly. He half expects a noise of acknowledgement, or a sympathetic gesture until he remembers who he’s sitting next to. He figures the reason Sheppard’s so easy to talk to is because he doesn’t offer anything, nothing but the restrained anger hiding behind his gaze and Cam knows that John would happily blow the crap out of the Ori in a heartbeat. He’d do it for the whole damn galaxy on any given day, but at that moment Cam thinks John might do it just for him.
“How’d you get away?”
“Davis blew the hell out of the building. Paul Davis,” Cam clarifies. “Worked through the Pentagon. Figure he must have got out in the initial evac. I thought he was on the Daedalus with everyone else.”
“Lucky for him.”
“No, it really wasn’t.” But Cam doesn’t elaborate, doesn’t explain why Davis would have been so much better off blowing up along with the Daedalus and all of it’s on-duty crew and the people they ‘rescued’, because he doesn’t want to think about the man who sacrificed his own life to save Cam’s. Doesn’t want to think how there was no way to save him, because deep down he wonders if maybe there was.
“You got out in the chaos?”
“Yeah. Took three others with me.”
He doesn’t need to say they didn’t make it.
* * *
There are times when all Cam wants to do is fight and scream and make a mess of his hands against stone, just so that he can feel properly again. He tried it once and felt both better and worse for it. That it was John seeking him out and cleaning his wounds made him feel more ashamed than anything else, because the man’s given Cam so much since the Damned arrived in Pegasus that he almost feels like he owes it more to John than himself to get over it already.
Sheppard hadn’t said anything, merely flew them both back from the mainland, waited until Cam’s knuckles had healed, held Sam and Keller at bay, and then introduced him to Teyla’s sticks and Ronon’s brute force. Hammering it out in the gym is hard, physical work and he doesn’t think that it’s just because Sheppard wants him ready to go out on missions again that prompted this, but more that John’s got to know what Cam needs.
He likes spending time with Ronon, likes the sensation of blood and sweat and the feeling of being alive that courses through his veins for hours afterwards. He doesn’t even mind being knocked repeatedly on his ass, because it reminds him that he’s got plenty left to feel yet.
Cam also likes Teyla, appreciates her silences and her calming presence. He gets that she understands what they’re all going through more than anyone should have to, he gets that she’s borne of a civilisation used to losing everything, he gets that she’s one of the few things holding them all together now and he sees exactly why it is that Sheppard and the others are glad that she’s with them, but he just can’t bring himself to spend much time with her. He thinks that John understands, hopes that the message has been passed to her and knows that, even if it hasn’t, the woman understood why Cam walked out the first time he’d called her “Teal’c”.
Cam knows it’s crazy, knows that physically it would make more sense for Ronon to remind him of his friend, but he’s spent a lot of time comparing the two and, if he ignores the fact that Teyla’s a woman half Teal’c’s size, he can sense a lot of his friend in her. Cam had learned to talk to Teal’c through their training, had learned to understand his moods through the motion of a staff weapon, had learned to read between the lines of his stoic mannerisms with the force of his swings and the rhythm of his movement. Less than one hour with Teyla and Cam had found himself speaking a different dialect of that same language.
Sometimes he thinks he misses Teal’c’s silences more than the noise of an entire planet he called home.
* * *
“This is getting to be a habit, ya know.”
John offers him a plate and settles into his usual spot to Cam’s left. It’s at night, with only the light from the two moons over the city, that Cam can almost believe that everything’s okay; that they aren’t fighting amongst themselves, running low on food and cramped into the sections of the city that the Lanteans had managed to secure prior to the sudden arrival of over 200 refugees. He thinks it doesn’t really help that there’s that kind of distinction between them; that those veterans of the city no longer really consider themselves as anything other than ‘Lanteans’, that there’s a divide between them and everyone who came through the ‘Gate after the last stand. Sometimes Cam wonders where he fits in. He didn’t make it through the ‘Gate as a survivor and he certainly doesn’t have a claim to being Lantean. He thinks that, with the word ‘Tauri’ having slipped into use for the survivors, he should feel more at ease, but all it does is remind him of the friend he’s lost.
He wonders how things would be without Teyla’s guidance, wonders how things would be if Elizabeth hadn’t left them protocols and guidelines, what kind of state they would all be in if she hadn’t insisted on having a back up plan for colonisation in the event that the original expedition hadn’t ever made it back to Earth. He knows that there’s been a lot of arguing about those guidelines, a lot of issues with the laws that have been kept or removed and a lot of resentment in terms of keeping the Atlantis ‘Gate activity and expedition as a separate government body.
Sheppard had spent almost a week of evening meals, sat under the moonlight, explaining Tauri vs Lantean, Military vs Science vs Civilian. John had almost got passionate explaining the ins and outs of their new democracy, which didn’t really fit with Cam’s views of the man, but he supposes that being one of the first Lanteans gives John the right to get passionate about how his home is run. Cam had listened – mostly – but had spent more time wondering how it was that the Ori had managed to beat most of the spirit out of humanity, but left the politics behind.
“You still haven’t given me an answer, ya know.”
“Thought there wasn’t a time limit.”
“There isn’t,” John says, but turns his head to smirk. “But I’m an impatient guy.”
Cam nods and looks back out to sea. “And Sam’s pushing you.”
“No,” Cam says. “She doesn’t. But I get that she tries.”
There's a silence and Cam's acutely aware of what John's not asking. He wants to know about the blood, about the five months or so that Cam spent in space, wants to know how he spent it and who didn't make it. If he thought about it, he'd likely come to the conclusion that the only thing that makes the words come is that fact that Sheppard won't ask him.
"There were ten of us."
John nods. "Nice round number."
"Yeah. Well. Eleven, twelve and thirteen went back for the dog." What Cam doesn't say -- can't say -- is that eleven, twelve and thirteen were three kids no older than twelve that he couldn't save. He couldn't even save their damn dog.
He stands and walks to the balcony, leaning on the ledge and taking a swig of whatever Sheppard gave him (he’s convinced it’s actually jet fuel) and clears his throat. "Took me three months just to get access to the ship," he continues, as Sheppard joins him by the railing. He’s trying not to let his voice crack and figures he's mostly successful. "Knew it was pretty far underground. Figured that with most of Area 51 and Cheyenne Mountain dead the Ori might not know about it."
"Take it they didn't."
"Not until it blew the crap out of one of their mother ships. Got no idea what the hell those guys put in the tubes, but it did the trick. Used 'em all, or I'd say we get McKay to figure it out."
"He’s already working on it," John says, surprising Cam a little, and shrugs. "The Area 51 guys left the specs on the systems."
Cam nods and lets the silence settle again before he speaks. “Shep, when I said Earth was gone, I meant-”
“I know what you meant.”
“No, you don’t, I-”
“You did what you had to do.”
Cam nods. “Maybe it would be better if I’d never made it…if I’d just-”
“Don’t say that.” Sheppard’s words are as harsh as the grip he suddenly has on Cam’s face; his hands framing Cam’s cheeks and his blazing eyes refusing to let go of the spell they’ve got on Cam’s.
One hard pull on John’s shirt is all it takes. He stops thinking as John’s lips crash into his, teeth catching onto the tip of Cam’s tongue and even the pain is welcome, because he can feel it. Cam drops his drink, clutches at John’s shirt, at his back, lets his fingers knead John’s hips when he starts to feel the harsh edge of the balcony digging into his back as things get more desperate.
There’s a chirp from John’s earpiece that has them both pulling back suddenly and Cam can only blink at how John’s voice sounds so normal, despite looking like he’s been on his way to being ravished on the floor of a balcony. His thoughts still aren’t clear when John wraps up his conversation and flicks his gaze back to Cam’s.
When neither of them can say anything, John clears his throat and indicates the doorway. Something’s going down and John has to leave. It’s the first time since he got here that Cam’s cared enough to want to join him.
He nods and John flashes him a smile.
“Same time tomorrow,” John says as he jogs out of the doorway, fixing in his shirt as he goes, and Cam realises that maybe he isn’t the only one in need of the silence of their companionship.
* * *
At least once a week, John drags Cam to the on-duty mess for dinner. It’s not easy, being around people he’s pretty sure don’t see him as one of them yet, but he can never face the off-duty mess halls, so full of Tauri, not when he can feel unspoken accusations smothering him. He’s pretty sure John hasn’t really clarified matters to anyone but Sam and McKay, but Cam’s got an active imagination and the guilt of a burning planet on his conscience.
He thinks that if it wasn’t for the way John looked at him and the unmasked delight on Sam’s face every time he joined them, he might not bother at all. But slowly he notices little things in the others as well; Teyla’s smile that isn’t so much full of pity as it is hope that he might just make it through and that look of understanding that tells Cam that it’s okay that he’s not ready to talk to her yet, or the look in McKay’s eyes that thanks him whenever he talks about his sister’s family, the grunts of almost-friendship from Ronon.
Sometimes, they’re joined by others, people that Cam never really thought he’d bother getting to know after he arrived, preferring to spend all his time in a silent, isolated bubble of self-hatred. He thinks that it’s easier to be pulled out by Sheppard and wonders when, or even if, he’ll ever want to pull himself out. So he simply listens to Lorne and Zelenka bickering, watches Keller pretending not to stare at Ronon and wonders if he’ll ever find himself again and give her the teasing she deserves, but mostly he likes to listen to the musical tones of Miko teaching John the sounds and sighs of an all but dead language.
Cam figures it’s John’s gift to the memory of Earth that he bothers, but mostly knows that Sheppard’s just a sucker for a pretty girl’s smile. Besides, everyone deserves the chance to keep alive a little piece of what was once home.
One day, if he finds his way out of that bubble himself, he might ask Zelenka to teach him how to cuss at John in Czech.
* * *
Things slip far more easily into a routine than Cam expects they will. His hand picked team consists of a young Marine Gunnery Sergeant he’s never met before, but has an enthusiasm Sam thought was amusingly appropriate and a recommendation from Stackhouse and Lorne that the kid can shoot pretty much anything dead centre; an Air Force Captain who speaks seven languages Cam’s not even sure are real; and Miko Kusanagi, whom he’s under orders not to break upon pain of death. And that John is the one to tell him that -- in no uncertain terms -- is not really a surprise. Their first mission is personally organised by Cam himself and they don’t even step foot out of the city.
Roaming the untouched halls of the Ancient city, Cam is finally able to let himself listen to the gentle song that’s been tugging at the back of his mind since he first woke up in the infirmary. He remembers John’s words from the previous night, a rare moment where the man opened up and let Cam glimpse a snippet of what John hides behind those eyes, and wonders if he can let Atlantis heal him the way she’s healed John so many times.
“Colonel, the area’s clear.”
“Call it in, Gunny,” Cam says and smiles a little as he circles the room one more time.
The area is large and the corridors a lot less cramped than the central sections of the city. With the power available to them now, as Rodney’s excited eyes so often tell them, it means that they aren’t stretching the city to its limits and Cam’s surprised that it took his and John’s recent suggestion to get the teams together and start exploring the city with more of a purpose than to check just for safety.
There are 623 people in the city, including the 217 from Earth and the 19 survivors from the Daedalus, and they’re still cramped into the main sections, with all its alerts and areas that are out of bounds to the general public, not to mention the problems caused by civilians with powerful ATA genes. Cam supposes they should be grateful that the majority of people saved were linked to Stargate personnel in some way and that they’re not new to the idea of being kept out of things, but he also sees the resentment rising every day. People need to start making homes for themselves in this city, or he has a feeling it’s all going to go to hell pretty soon.
It had taken the council hours of debate to come to agreeable terms, debates of staying in the city and knowing that offers from the Athosian representatives, Halling and Marla, were likely to be accepted by many. Cam’s a little embarrassed to admit that when Miko had relayed things to him and John on their balcony after the meeting, he’d almost wanted to accept the offer himself.
Cam knows that the council is a good thing, knows that its representatives have a hard job on their hands, so he accepts that his team will have to accommodate Miko’s involvement. He doesn’t really understand the way the whole thing works, but he’s fairly sure that Teyla, Miko, Keller and Cadman adequately represent the personal needs of the Lanteans in the same way that John, McKay, Sam and Parrish represent their working needs. The three Tauri representatives and the two Athosians provide a good balance, but Cam sure as hell doesn’t want to ever find himself sitting in a room with them all. Things are still bitter on many sides and coming to a decision that nearly 700 people have to live with isn’t his idea of a good time. He’s made enough hard choices to last him a lifetime.
What surprises Cam the most, however, is the thought of securing more suitable living quarters and giving people the opportunity to do something for a living hadn’t really been put properly into motion yet. Even the Laneans are getting fed up living and working in the same space, tripping over each other with every move. They’ve all had to realise that Pegasus is no longer a temporary assignment, things are forever now and it’s about time they all accepted it, because even the initial expedition had got used to having home again.
Hearing Captain Pollock call his name from the doorway, Cam shakes off his thoughts and waves a hand at her. He circles the room once more and places a mental flag in it. This one’s his.
* * *
The lab is quiet and dim when Cam enters, scanning quickly for the object of his search. Spotting John at the whiteboard by McKay’s desk, he slowly approaches. He knows that the other man is more than aware of his presence, even if he’s not showing it, but he doesn’t speak until they’re standing shoulder to shoulder, John finishing his scribbling with a slight flourish.
Cam looks at the board, bewildered. “Did you just finish one of McKay’s equations?”
“I like to fuck with his mind a little,” John admits with a shrug.
“And the note at the end?”
“Rodney needs to get laid.”
“And you’re suggesting Cadman because you have a death wish?”
John turns to him. “Laura likes me.”
“She won’t when she sees this,” Cam says with a grin.
John hits him on the head with the marker before setting it aside and steering Cam from the room. “Who says she didn’t put me up to this?”
Stopping in his tracks, Cam turns to look at him. “You’re seriously trying to set McKay up?” he asks, sceptically. “What, you didn’t just decide to charm him yourself?”
John lets out a laugh. “You jealous?”
“Now you’re dreamin’, Shep.”
And if he spends a little longer groping John in the abandoned corridor near his new quarters that night, he’s got plenty of other excuses stored up.
* * *
“So, uh…you’re settling in?”
Cam almost grins at the awkward question, but manages to keep his face straight when he turns towards the now-open doorway. “Yeah, things are settled.”
“Good. Uh, yes, that’s…good.”
“So…what can I do for ya, McKay?”
Rodney looks as if he’s about to bolt and Cam totally gets why John has so much fun screwing with the guy. He also knows that lemons are not really appropriate material with which to do so, even if he had had to remind John that he’d been the one to hand the damn thing over in the first place.
Rodney still hasn’t answered and Cam’s happy to watch him wander nervously through his living quarters and can’t help but wonder if he’ll pick up on the little bits of John that are scattered through the place. It’s not like the guy’s Johnny Cash poster is plastered on the walls of the living room advertising the fact that they’re pretty much living together, but Rodney’s got a few PhD’s and a couple hundred points of IQ in his favour and Cam knows they’re not really fooling anyone.
He’s just figured to let Rodney anxiously wander through their rooms, not saying anything, when the man spins on his heel and gives Cam a look that makes him realise that maybe he should be the one with the nerves.
“I never really liked you very much.”
“But you’ve been through hell and you saved my sister and her family and for some unfathomable reason all my friends seem to like you. You’re not funny, you strut far too much and if you hurt him I will personally make your life a living hell.”
When Cam can only blink Rodney nods.
“Welcome to Atlantis.”
* * *
It’s six days before Cam realises that he hasn’t had a single nightmare. Much as he’s sure John’s ego would like to take credit for that fact, it sends Cam into a tailspin of guilt, so he takes to waiting until John falls asleep before slipping out into the night.
The balcony off their quarters gets a lot more use now than the one they all but lived on before the move, but it’s there that Cam’s feet take him. He wanders the corridors, almost in an echo of the weeks he spent on the Damned and the feeling of helplessness and isolation eats away at him. Part of him figures he’s pretty damn lucky that the council has been in session for the last week and his team’s on stand down, because even he can admit that his judgement might not be at it’s best.
His sessions with Heightmeyer are down to one a week and he’s got pretty good at letting just enough slip through that she thinks he’s coping with it. He thinks he’s fooling everyone, even if he’s avoiding Sam to do it and making sure that John’s distracted enough that they don’t have time to talk anymore. He can even ignore the hurt he sees in John’s eyes when he tries to tease, calls him Sheppard and then just makes sure that he doesn’t have to think about anything for a while.
By the time he reaches the balcony, the night’s in its element and even the city seems to be asleep. There are lights on in the control tower and the odd flickers in the night that remind him of fireflies as the rest of the population wakes or starts to dream.
He wonders what things would be like back on Earth, wonders what his parents would be doing if the Ori had never turned up, what his family would think of him if he didn’t know they were in heaven praying that his soul wasn’t so condemned he’d never be able to join them. He almost laughs at how absurdly melodramatic he’s being, but knows that his breath might just catch on something in his throat. Something that’s likely to bring out a whole lot more than he wants to deal with.
A movement in her peripheral vision makes him reach for the weapon he didn’t strap on, but he relaxes when Sheppard steps out of the shadows. His eyes are shrouded in the darkness and Cam can’t really tell which version of the man he’s going to have to deal with and he’s a little shamed to admit to himself that he’d rather fight, even as he wonders if he has the energy to do it.
“I’m not stupid.”
The words are low and John doesn’t look at him as he joins him by the railing. They stand side by side and Cam takes a few deep breaths before nodding.
“Yeah, I know.”
“You didn’t bring the Ori to Earth,” John says and the fact that he’s talking about it directly is enough to startle Cam. “You didn’t make them what they are and you sure as hell didn’t make them destroy our home.”
“I’m the one who pulled the damn trigger, Shep.” And he finds that he does have enough in him to still be angry. “I’m the one who made that decision and it’s me who has to live with it.”
“No, it’s all of us, because you won’t let us forget!”
“You forgave me,” Cam accuses and John turns, stands toe to toe with him.
“You’re damn right I did. And I’m not the only one. And we’re gonna keep on forgiving you until you forgive yourself.”
He’s peripherally aware that he’s started to shake, but he ignores it. John’s not moving, won’t move forward or back, and Cam’s not sure he’s ready to do either.
“I can’t see their faces anymore, John,” he admits, his voice soft and still full of all the anger he can muster.
“It’s not your job to remember the whole damn planet.”
“No, just my job to blow it the hell up.”
“How many were left, Cam?” John’s voice is soft and, somehow, that’s worse and Cam can count on one hand the number of times John’s used his name in conversation. “How many stood aside and let Origin into their lives?”
“Too damn many to make it okay.”
“How many, Cam? And how many were already burning when you ended it?”
“I didn’t mean…” His voice catches, so he stops, waits it out a little while. “I didn’t know what was in the damn tubes. I didn’t know it would…I didn’t know.”
“It’s too much.”
He doesn’t have to explain, knows he never has to, and lets his head fall forward, his forehead meeting John’s with an almost-painful knock.
“It’s too much,” he repeats and John’s hands are on his arms. “It’s just too damn much.”
“I know,” John murmurs, holding tighter when Cam’s head drops onto his shoulder. “You need to let it go.”
It’s only when he realises that he’s the reason the shoulder of John’s t-shirt is wet that Cam finally feels like he can.
* * *
The memorial isn't near the control room, isn't near the main hallways or the 'Gate room, but tucked in at the heart of the city, between the public information centre and the room the original expedition used for whatever religious privacy they required. With so many civilians in the city now and a growing contingent before the evacuation, the area isn't quiet during the day, but at night Cam finds himself wandering the hallways nearby and always stopping at the doorway. One day he thinks he might make it through the door, might find a way to say sorry for not being able to do more, but no matter what John says he doesn't think there's a way to atone for the final mark he made on Earth.
After nearly eight months on Atlantis, he's not surprised that he gets cornered there one night, but he is surprised that it isn't John who finds him. He and Sam are careful around each other now, the depths of their friendship go further that he'd thought, but there are some things they just haven't been ready to talk about. Cam has kind of hoped they never will be, because Sam's possibly the only other person that will get past his walls.
They stand in silence, side by side in the doorway, just looking. The number of names etched into the walls is staggering, sends him reeling every time he looks at them, but it doesn't stop him looking every time. Sam's gentle tug on his fingertips sends a wave of panic through him, because he's not sure he's ready to face this yet. He doesn't think he can handle it, but he's already following her across the room.
Their names aren't front and centre, aren't any larger than any of the others surrounding them. The list is off to the side, down by the floor and written in Sam's careful script.
Vala Mal Doran
Jacob Carter Jnr
The list is long, goes through personnel whose faces Cam can't picture, but wonders if they were dead before he hit that button. Slowly, he crouches down, takes the scalpel-like object that Sam is holding out for him and adds the names of nine others, hesitates and adds the names of three small children he can still see in his mind.
He even adds the damn dog.
* * *
The ‘Gate closes behind him, the satisfying whoosh of a job well done, and he smirks at John as the man looks down from the control area. That’s five to him and only three to John. He doesn’t think it’ll be long before he gets shot at again, but he’ll take the reprieve with a smile and all the sexual favours that winning has to offer before John’s got to save his ass again.
The debriefing won’t be for another hour and there’s not really much to report, so he orders his team to Keller and wanders behind them at a more sedate pace. There’s a kind of peace somewhere inside him and he’s been letting it settle in for a few days now, just waiting whilst it makes its place inside and hoping that maybe more of his guilt will be laid to rest.
He’s just toying with the idea that maybe things are reaching a balance inside him when Zelenka barrels out of a room to his left and almost knocks him over.
“Woah, settle down there, Einstein,” he says as the Czech ceases what sounds like an interesting babble, if Cam could understand a word of it.
“Sorry, Colonel. I have a lot to work through.”
“You should take a break every now and then. No matter what McKay tells you, it ain’t slackin’ off.”
“Rodney does not scare me,” the man says with a small smile and a shake of his head. “Apologies again, Colonel.”
Cam lifts a hand in farewell as the man turns in the opposite direction, but can’t stop the smile that reaches his lips when he realises that something’s different. Something inside him still hurts and he thinks it probably always will, but Atlantis is singing a quiet acapella in the back of his mind and the city is alive around him. A ‘Gate team passes him with a casual hello and Cam realises that he knows their names, knows what they do, who they are and what section of the city they live in. He knows the names of all the people in his block, helps Mrs. P with some chores on his days off and is happy to take home some of her pie so John can beg for dessert. It’s not quite home yet, but he realises that it’s finally his.
Shaking his head he glances to where Zelenka is disappearing down the corridor and wonders how many names he could call John before the man catches on.
“Hey, Radek! Wait up.”
* * *
There were things that I really wanted to get more into, like the council and the reactions of everyone who lost Earth, but Cam arrives on Atlantis after they’ve already sorted through a lot of this stuff, so it didn’t work as a part of this story and I could only show pieces of it peripherally. Maybe I’ll write some more in this ‘verse, but for now I hope you enjoyed.
* * *