blue flamingos

Hold On, Here We Go

Fandom: Stargate Atlantis/Stargate SG1

Category/Rated: Slash, Adult

Year/Length: 2009/ ~14,495 words

Pairing: Cam/John (some John/Holland)

Disclaimer: No, I don't own them, for which I should think they're profoundly grateful.

Summary: "What?" Holland had said, shrugging. "Everyone knows you're the only reason I'm not dead right now. Makes it hard to get rid of you."

Author's Notes: Written for sg_rarepairings for the prompt 'it's worth the risk.' Mildly AU SG1 from season 7 on (more AU for John than it is for everyone else)

Feedback: Yes please. Even if it's bad. Especially if it's bad.


John's two main thoughts upon his introduction to the F-302s were: when do we get to actually fly one (or even see one; he'd settle for seeing one); and, if that guy's going to be in charge, I'm rethinking this thing, super-cool spaceship fighters or not.

Also, that it was a little weird to be siring a guy who had to be half John's age at most, but since he got Captain I'm-Not-Listening-To-A-Woman and Major Thank-God-They're-The-Same-Rank-And-John-Won't-Have-To-Sir-Him to shut up, John wasn't going to complain. Not least because, according to Colonel O'Neill, so well-know even John had heard of him, they were getting a newly promoted lieutenant colonel as their squadron leader, arriving in a few days' time. John decided immediately that, no matter how bad the new guy was, he had to be better than Major Parker, and therefore John didn't care.

He still felt cheated that all he got to see were pictures of the space fighters, though.


Holland, when John had visited his still-recovering self to say goodbye, hadn't been anywhere near as surprised as John had been at John being offered a mysterious new posting to something so classified even he hadn't really known what it was.

"What?" Holland had said, shrugging. "Everyone knows you're the only reason I'm not dead right now. Makes it hard to get rid of you."

"So they make me the kind of offer most people would kill to get?" John had asked, dubious.

"They make you the kind of offer that gets you out from under their feet before you do anything else to make it clear you've forgotten how to listen to authority," Holland had corrected, but he'd been smiling as he said it. He'd been alive, and given how close they'd come, John had been pretty happy just to see him sitting there. The smiling had been a bonus.


"It's just," Captain Zhang said over lunch in Area 51's mess, the day they all arrived out there, "I thought it'd be more..."

"Alien?" Lieutenant Brown suggested, poking at his food without enthusiasm. "Which I think this actually might be."

Zhang rolled her eyes. "Different. Exciting."

"Shiny," John offered.

"Something like that, sir," Zhang said, smiling. She reminded John of Holland, a little, all cheerful sarcasm. It was probably why she and John and Brown had already bonded a little more with each other than with the rest of the squadron, scattered across half a dozen tables, though John knew that would have to change.

"It has shiny spaceships," Brown said. "That's pretty cool, ma'am."

Zhang made a little back and forth gesture with her head. "I'm reserving judgment till I've been up in one."

"They're alien fighter ships, Zhang," John said, fighting to keep the note of horror out of his voice. "And you're reserving judgment?"

"I'm reserving judgment," Zhang agreed. "They could handle like bricks for all we know."

Brown looked extremely dubious. "You heard Major Carter talk about them. And Colonel O'Neill."

Zhang shrugged. "They have to say that. Didn't Major Carter help design them or something, she's not going to tell us that bad stuff."

"You have the soul of an army grunt," John told her, glancing reflexively over to where Carter was sitting with a couple of scientists, hoping she hadn't heard what Zhang had said. "I don't know what you're doing in the air force."

"You're not the first person to wonder, sir," Zhang said cheerfully. "Just wait till you see me in action."

John was saved from having to come up with anything to say to that by the arrival of a man who, when Carter spotted him, brought her to her feet to hug him. He was wearing the same navy BDUs as the rest of them, which meant he had to be their missing squadron leader, and for a moment, watching him hug Carter close, John wondered if there was a reason beyond, presumably, ability in a cockpit, why he'd been chosen.

Then they stepped away from each other, and John got a good enough look at their faces to seriously rethink that idea, Carter frowning and worried, their illustrious leader mostly looking at his boots. It was probably just the way his head was tipped down, but he looked tired and kind of sad, and John really hoped that Parker and Anderson wouldn't start making a fuss all over again.

"So he's the guy," Zhang said quietly.

"Who?" Brown asked, twisting round to look at the colonel, who'd sat down with Carter and the scientists and stolen her coffee, which she didn't seem to have noticed yet. "Really?"

Zhang rolled her eyes at him again. She did that a lot, though mostly with affection, as far as John could tell. "I suppose he could just be enacting a cunning plan to blend in with the rest of us, but somehow I doubt it."

Brown flushed slightly, looking down at his plate. "Yes, ma'am."

Zhang frowned at him for a brief moment, then looked over at John, who shrugged. If Brown was going to develop a crush on her, John was having nothing to do with it. The less he knew, the better. "So, who is he?" she asked, apparently deciding similarly that discretion was the better part of valor.

John shook his head. He hadn't noticed before, but now it struck him as a little weird. Maybe it was just one of the undoubtedly many joys he had coming, working for a top secret project. "I don't know him," he said, looking over at him again.

To his surprise, the colonel was looking back, Carter obviously talking about John, given the way she immediately looked away. The colonel didn't, just held John's eyes for a moment, then smiled. It shook off some of his tiredness, made his face warmer, and John smiled back, couldn't help it.

The colonel looked away first, back to Carter, and John blinked, feeling like he'd been very far away, though Zhang and Brown, now trying to guess where the colonel might have come from, didn't seem to have noticed.

John had a bad feeling that Brown wasn't the only one developing a bit of a crush.


"Sheppard, right?" the colonel – Mitchell, John reminded himself – said, falling into step with him as they all headed to the locker room at the end of the day.

"Yes, sir," John said, falling back a couple of steps as Mitchell did.

Mitchell made a weird, twisty face, then, when he saw John watching him, said, "Taking some getting used to. Ten days ago we were the same rank."

Considering he was a lieutenant colonel, John thought Mitchell would have gotten used to the brief disconnect when he got promoted, but his weird, tired sadness had neither gone away, nor had an explanation attached to it, and maybe this was part of it. "I'm sure there are some perks," he offered.

Mitchell made another weird face, happier than the last one, and John heard his own words played back in his head, realized how they sounded. "Like being able to make people get you coffee," he added, before Mitchell could get any more of the wrong idea.

"I don't want the coffee they make here," Mitchell said.

"Sucks to be you, then, sir," John said cheerfully, holding the door for him.

"Major," Brown said, looking up from untying his boots and spotting John. "You're living here, right?"

"For the moment," John agreed. Relocation to the middle of the desert came with the posting, as did quarters in the top secret base for anyone who wanted them. John was kind of tempted, except that his quarters didn't have any windows, which struck him as being something of a downside. "Why?"

Brown turned to offer a superior grin to Lieutenant Adiche, who looked abashed. "Adiche says only losers who don't plan to have a life live on top secret bases. Sir."

"Adiche should remember that all the most interesting missions go to the people right there when they're needed," John said lightly, though it wasn't like Adiche didn't have a kind of point. As a general rule, John didn't get involved with civilians and it was, paradoxically, far easier to carry on a top secret relationship when you lived two doors down from the person in the middle of a military base. Not that he was planning to do that here. "Isn't that right, sir?"

Mitchell looked like he was trying hard not to laugh. "I wouldn't know. I've always moved off base as early as I could."

"Traitor," John said, making Brown and Adiche laugh.

Mitchell shrugged. "What? I don't want my guys thinking I'm a loser without a life."

"Glad to know I'm good for something," John muttered, and went to change out of his flight suit.


Two weeks into training – when they'd gotten used to the kind of flying most of them had only dreamed of; when John hadn't, though it was sometimes a near thing, killed Major Parker for being the most irritating man on the base; when Mitchell had started to gel with the rest of them and stopped looking like just being there hurt – Mitchell sat down next to John at lunch and said, "I take it you still haven't found anywhere to live?"

It had gotten to be a thing, John being one of only a handful of their squadron still living at Area 51, enough so that John rolled his eyes and Zhang and Brown got very interested in their soup. "I have somewhere to live, sir," John said.

"An underground bunker is not 'somewhere to live'," Mitchell said firmly. "It's where you live when you're not allowed to leave the building."

"I'll tell Somers you said she was living like a prisoner," John threatened. Not that Somers would care – she was studying for her PhD in between training to be a space fighter pilot, she probably wouldn't have cared if she really was living in a cell.

"Tell her whatever you like," Mitchell said, stealing John's bread roll. "Adiche's right, you need a life, not to spend all your time at work."

"Has it escaped everyone's notice that I've been sorting out my life perfectly adequately for several decades now?" John asked the general vicinity of the table. "I don't need someone to do it for me."

"Just let him do it, sir," Zhang advised without looking up. "He'll be insufferable until you do."

"Is that any way to speak to your CO?" Mitchell asked her.

She did look up then, smiling sweetly. "I was speaking of you, not to you, sir."

Mitchell laughed. "I'm not sure that's actually any better," he said, but he was already turning back to John. "I'm serious. You need to see sunlight from something other than the cockpit of a 302."

"I'll take up kite-surfing," John promised insincerely. Though if it would get Mitchell to let it go, he'd give it serious thought.

"Great, another way for one of you to break a bone, no thank you," Mitchell said. He pulled a piece of paper from his pocket and shoved it over to John, who opened it to find a listing for an apartment. "Half hour drive from here, two bedrooms, shared garden, parking for two cars."

"I'm a little disturbed that you have enough free time to go apartment hunting for me," John said. "Especially for me and my imaginary room-mate."

"I'm sure I read somewhere that they picked you lot for your quick reflexes," Mitchell said, mock-exasperated, though his eyes were awkward, like he was regretting starting the whole conversation, or maybe regretting starting it with an audience. "I don't know how you slipped through."

"Sir," John said, not sure if he was offended or not.

"*I* want to live there," Mitchell said, enunciating each word very clearly. "But I can't afford the rent. You're starting to look like a vampire from lack of sun. Win-win."

John was a long way from sure of that. Even leaving aside the fact that Mitchell was his squadron leader, and his superior, though only by a handful of weeks, he really couldn't see living with the guy doing anything to help his vague attraction to Mitchell. On the other hand, Mitchell had to be aware of those issues (though hopefully not all of them) and he was still asking. And John did like him, as a friend, kind of, and it would beat living underground. The lack of windows was starting to get to him pretty badly.

"I'll take a look at it with you," he said, holding up a hand before Mitchell could start grinning victoriously. "That doesn't mean I'm going to do it."


He didn't know who he'd thought he'd been kidding. Certainly not Mitchell, whose only comment when John said okay was, "Please don't keep calling me sir when we're living together."

They moved in a week later, which, given that both of them still had most of their stuff in storage, didn't take very long. Mitchell got called back to base as they were crushing the last of the boxes; John, after a moment of indecision, called Holland.

"You're living with your CO?" Holland said when John explained, sounding incredulous. "Kind of a conflict of interest, maybe?"

"It's fine," John said, though he suspected Holland had a point. "And I'm not living with him."

"The two of you co-signed a lease," Holland said, teasing. "And have matching keys. That kind of says 'living with' to me."

"Not the way you make it sound," John said. "We're sharing the rent, not bodily fluids."

"Whatever you say," Holland said, laughing at him.


Living with Mitchell wasn't actually as weird as John had worried that it might be: they could both cook, they both liked sports, they were both good at keeping the place tidy and clean, and since they both kept the same weird hours, there was no-one to complain about them coming in at two in the morning or disappearing for weeks at a time when they went off-world for training.

"Ugh," Mitchell said, collapsing on their couch, his head thrown back and his eyes closed. John, toeing off his boots inside the door, made himself look away, annoyed that he still hadn't gotten his attraction under control. "Not that I don't see the point of training off-world, but you'd think Earth's final base if we have to evacuate the planet would have showers."

"Probably won't be people's first concern in that case," John pointed out, a little weirded out by the easy way Mitchell said 'evacuate the planet.'

Mitchell opened his eyes to smile at John. "People obsess about weird things."

John decided discretion was the better part of valor there and said, "Want some coffee?" instead.

"0400 start tomorrow, I'm pretty sure that's the last thing either of us need," Mitchell said, hauling himself to his feet again. "I'm gonna take a shower, unless you..."

"Go for it," John said, dragging his mind out of the gutter.

It was definitely a sign of how tired John was that, when the phone rang as he was making tea, he jumped and poured near boiling water over his hand. He grabbed the phone with one hand, turned the faucet on with the other and said, "Hello?" hoping it wasn't General Franklin calling them all back in.

"Hello, John," Mitchell's mom said as John hissed at the cold water on his hand.

"Mrs. Mitchell," John said, trying to sound polite and not like he was in pain. "How are you?"

"I'm well, thank. You sound like I've caught you at a bad time." John had only spoken to Mrs. Mitchell a handful of times, but it was still enough to recognize that she sounded like she wanted to laugh, which was kind of weird.

"Our tea kettle's out to get me," John told her, shutting the water off again, twenty minute first aid rule be damned. "Mitchell – Cameron's – in the shower. Shall I get him for you?"

"I can wait," she told him, still sounding like she wanted to laugh. "If you're sure I'm not interrupting anything."

"Of course not," John lied. His tea had brewed to an unpleasantly dark brown while he'd been distracted, and he knew he'd end up throwing it away. "How's Mr. Mitchell?"

"I'm sure I've told you to call us Wendy and Frank," she said, vaguely chastising. "You are living with our son."

"Yes, ma'am," John said, falling back onto the formality without meaning to. He knew no-one meant anything but the reality by it, but hearing people say 'living with' about him and Mitchell still made him uncomfortable. "Sorry."

"That's all right, dear. I've been told I can be very patient."

"Um, good," John said, frowning at the counter. This was why he tried to avoid dealing with people's parents – he just wasn't good at it.

"And Frank's very well, thank you. He's visiting our grandchildren this week."

"That's nice," John said, trying to remember where Mitchell's brother lived. Mitchell, fortunately, chose that moment to wander into the kitchen, barefoot in sweats and a t-shirt, his hair damp, looking confused at finding John on the phone. "Hold on," John said, then held the phone out to him. "Your mom."

"Thanks," Mitchell said, most of his confusion clearing. He brushed by John as he took the phone, shower-warm skin and spicy soap that made John flush. "Hey, Momma, what's up?"

He caught John's eye again, smiling in thanks, and John, well aware that he was being pathetic, fled.


"What're you doing for Thanksgiving?" Mitchell asked over breakfast the next morning.

John, who wasn't good with mornings at the best of times, and was even worse when it wasn't even light out, said, "Huh?" intelligently.

"Thanksgiving," Mitchell repeated, grinning. "You going back to your folks?"

"Not welcome," John said before he could catch himself, early morning lack of concentration.

Mitchell opened his mouth like he was going to ask, then took a sip of coffee instead. One more reason why John liked him – he knew when not to pry. "My mom's always asking when she's going to meet you," he said.

John ate some toast to avoid answering the question. Mitchell talked a lot about his family, a big, close sprawl of cousins and nephews and nieces that John could never keep track of, how they all found their way back to Mitchell's parents' home in Kansas for chaotic holidays. John couldn't really imagine it, so different from his own family holidays, but he could do a good enough job to know that there was no way he'd be able to cope with it for more than a couple of hours. "Thanks," he said, shaking his head. "I think I'm going to visit a friend."

"Yeah?" Mitchell asked, suddenly very interested in his empty cereal bowl.

"Holland," John clarified, figuring Mitchell thought he meant a girlfriend, not quite sure why he was bothering to correct the misconception. It was worth it for the way Mitchell seemed to relax slightly at the news, looking up again.

"How's he doing?"

"Really well. He's hoping to be back on active duty early next year."

John didn't know what he'd said, but Mitchell's face darkened and he looked away. "That's great," he said, his light tone sounding forced.

"Yeah," John said, remembering Mitchell's quiet sadness when he'd first shown up. He never talked about what he'd been doing before he came to the 302s, beyond the very barest of details, and John didn't know how to ask. Didn't know if he had the right, yet. He wanted to tell Mitchell that he was sorry for whatever had happened to him, or to someone he cared about, wanted, weirdly, to hug him or something, anything that might make him feel a bit better.

Knew he couldn't do either, and settled for saying, "Come on, we're gonna be late. The last thing I need is for Parker to have anything else to bitch about."

"You know he loves you really," Mitchell said, draining the last of his coffee.

John shuddered dramatically, pleased when it made Mitchell smile, for real. "God, I hope not."


John hadn't actually planned what he was going to do for Thanksgiving – possibly just hang out and appreciate having the apartment to himself, possibly do his part for squadron morale as one of the senior officers and arrange some kind of thing for everyone who couldn't get home – but having put the idea of visiting Holland out there with Mitchell, it kind of grew on him, and Holland was happy enough about it when John suggested it.

Which was how he ended up, the night before Thanksgiving, sitting on Holland's couch drinking beer and trying to avoid telling Holland what he was really doing for a living.

"Come on," Holland pushed, eyes bright in the dim lamp light. "It's gotta be something cool, out in the middle of the desert."

"It's boring," John lied. "Experimental stuff."

"Yeah, sure. Boring experimental stuff that means you're out of touch for weeks."

"Sometimes we work late, stay on the base."

"Where your cell phone stops working."

"You know, I think you need a hobby, if you're spending this much time trying to get hold of me," John said. "Maybe crochet? Origami?"

"Yeah, origami, I can model your boring experimental stuff," Holland said dryly. "Seriously, you're trying to tell me that some boring experiment sucked in some of the best pilots in the US air force?"

"You're way too invested in this," John told him.

"I'm so bored I nearly started making one of those damn model plane kits my sister-in-law's always buying me," Holland said. "The only thing saving me from myself is imagining your exciting assignment."

"It's really not that exciting," John lied, well aware that he couldn't keep a straight face while doing so. He was flying experimental space ships to defend Earth against aliens. It was pretty much the coolest assignment out there.

"Bullshit," Holland said. He hesitated, picking at the label on his bottle, then said, "You think... they recruiting again any time soon?"

John looked away, turning his own empty bottle in his hands. Holland was a good guy, probably his best friend in the service, or anywhere else, but trying to imagine him as part of the 302 program with John and Mitchell was more awkward than it probably should have been. "I told you, it's boring," he said eventually, trying to force the earlier lightness back into his tone. "You're better off going back to flying helicopters."

"Right," Holland said, sounding disappointed enough to make John feel guilty.

"I'll ask," he said. "When you get a date to go back on active duty."

Holland nodded, stretching to put his empty bottle on the floor, and leaning into John as he sat back up. "Great. Got any ideas for how to avoid the boredom until then?"

John recognized his cue when he heard it, meeting Holland halfway. "I might have one or two."

They fucked on Holland's couch, careful of his still healing injuries, and John didn't think about Mitchell at all, not until he was on the plane home.


As though the Thanksgiving break had been some kind of signal, they came back and rolled straight into a series of missions that did more for their skills – and their exhaustion levels – than the months of training that had come before. Not that John was complaining or anything – there was nothing like the buzz that came from pulling off a successful mission, only this was more – but it hit the point where they were being scrambled so often that people stopped going home.

"I don't get it," Brown said one morning, over breakfast in the mess, exhausted scientists on one side, exhausted pilots on the other. "If Earth's getting attacked this often, what were they doing before they had us?"

"Best not to ask," Zhang said, her voice muffled by the way she was resting her head on her folded arms. "It'll only depress you to think that it's probably pure luck we've survived this long."

Mitchell laughed, nudging her mug closer. "Drink your coffee. And, you know, they must have been doing something right, or we wouldn't be here. That's sort of comforting."

"That's a sign that our luck's about to run out," Zhang corrected, lifting her head enough to sip at her coffee.

"Who needs morale boosting with you around?" John asked.

Zhang gave him what would have been a sunny smile if she didn't look as tired as they all felt. "Team building through cynicism, sir. It's all the rage in OCS these days."

"Must have been after your time," Brown added, not quite under his breath. Apparently, being officially assigned as Mitchell's co-pilot had given him a massive confidence boost.

John shrugged at Mitchell. "I guess it beats trust exercises."

"Hey," Somers said, dropping into a spare seat before Mitchell could say anything. "Has anyone noticed it's Christmas in two days time?"

"No way," Mitchell said firmly. "It's only –"

"December 23rd," Somers said helpfully. She paused, slice of toast halfway to her mouth and blinked. "Wow, okay, I thought I was the only one who stopped paying attention to the outside world."

"Well, alien attacks, kind of distracting," Zhang pointed out, stealing a strawberry from Somers' yogurt.

"Though I guess it explains why my mom's been calling every other day for the past couple of weeks," Mitchell said.

"Maybe if you checked your voicemail occasionally," John suggested. He hadn't done any better than the others for keeping track of the date, but he was kind of pleased to know that no-one else had. It meant they'd all be sticking around, which was likely to make for a far better holiday than he'd have had anywhere else.

"So we should do something," Somers said. "You know, team building thing."

Brown started laughing, which set off Zhang, and made Somers glare at them both, looking faintly betrayed.

"It's a good idea," Mitchell said, patting her shoulder reassuringly. "Wonder if we can persuade the mess to make yule logs."


They couldn't, as it turned out – they got red and green Jello instead, which really wasn't the same, though it didn't seem to matter in the end, with the squadron gathered in one big, noisy party, even some of the scientists creeping out of their labs to join in.

John wasn't going to ask where the mistletoe had come from on such short notice. As long as he could avoid it – and pretend he hadn't noticed that Zhang and Brown got caught under it a hell of a lot – he was happy.

Even happier when General Franklin dropped in to give them all the next day off, which he spent on the couch with Mitchell, nursing their hangovers while Mitchell took what seemed like an endless stream of calls from his family.

"Their phone bill must be insane," John said after a while, watching the sun fade out of the sky where neither of them could be bothered to get up and close the curtains. It was kind of nice to look at something other than concrete walls.

Mitchell shrugged. "Better them than me."

"You're all pretty close," John said, not quite sure what he was pushing for. Dave hadn't bothered to call this year, not even John's cell. He hadn't expected Dad to, wasn't surprised that he hadn't.

He felt Mitchell looking at him, but all Mitchell said was, "Yeah. They've always been there."

It stung, even though he knew Mitchell didn't mean anything by it. "That why you asked me to move in with you?" he asked.

"What, because I suck at being alone?" Mitchell asked. He shrugged again. "Pretty much, actually.

"Oh," John said, looking down to hide his smile. There was no reason for that to make him feel good, when he'd known all along that Mitchell hadn't really asked him because he couldn't afford the rent on his own, but still. It was kind of nice.


"ETA is nine minutes," Mitchell said. John, standing next to Parker and resisting the urge to elbow him into shutting up – a year together, and John still didn't like him – tried to catch Mitchell's eye, but he wasn't looking at any of them, not really. "Expect the enemy to throw everything they have at us."

Like they hadn't all the other times, except this felt different, SG-1 and lost cities and Anubis. This felt real, serious danger, and John got why Mitchell wouldn't look at any of them for more than a handful of seconds – he was doing what John was doing, trying not to wonder who he'd never see again.

"All right, saddle up folks." Mitchell managed a smile at that, one that looked pretty damn real, and John thought, I don't want this to be the last thing I remember about you.

"Hey," he said, catching Mitchell's arm as the others scattered to their 302s. Mitchell stopped, looked at John, tense and worried, his head already in Antarctica with SG-1. John pulled up the best smile he could manage. "Good luck."

Mitchell nodded, lifted his other hand to squeeze John's wrist. "You too. Stay safe."

"Sheppard," Somers called. "Let's get this show on the road."

"See you on the other side," Mitchell said, letting go of John.

"Beer's on you," John called after him, already turning away.


The battle of Antarctica won't be like the other fights they've fought. Those have been crisp, clear memories, debriefs like a running commentary on a film playing in his head. John will remember this in flashes, 302s and gliders, the bright lights of alien weapons and the heavy presence of the Prometheus, SG-1's voices in his radio. The ice, bright and white below a sky so blue it didn't seem real.

He'll remember trying to keep track of their squadron, Mitchell and Brown and Zhang and Adiche, Parker and Anderson who he still doesn't get on with, and he won't remember when he stopped being able to, but he'll know that he did. That when he shot at a glider going after one of theirs, he didn't know who it was, only that he took out the glider before it could take out anyone in his squadron (before it could take out Mitchell and Brown, but John won't be the only one who doesn't remember it well, and they'll never put it together, any of them).

He'll remember Mitchell's voice over their radios as they swept over the ice, "Go low, boys and girls. The Prometheus has our backs," and the next thing he'll remember as clearly is the echo of engines against the hull of the Prometheus, booted feet on metal floors and anxious, worried voices.


"Who was hit?" Somers asked, out loud, not into her radio.

John pulled his mask off, fumbled with the straps holding him in place until he could stumble out, jump to the floor with a bone-jarring thud, too impatient to wait. "I don't know."

Somers stumbled as she jumped down next to him, her eyes red in her pale face. "I heard someone go down."

"I know." The hanger was chaos, whole ships and mangled ships, and John couldn't tell if this was it, or if there were others still out there. He couldn't see Mitchell, or couldn't pick him out of the mess of helmeted people in identical olive flight suits. "We're just in the way here, come on."

"Where?" Somers asked, tagging behind him even as she asked.

John didn't have a clue, other than away from their battered, bruised fighters, but apparently he stood out as someone who might know what he was doing, because the others were drifting over to join him and Somers. "The mess," he said firmly. "We'll find someone who knows what's going on."

They found an airman who didn't know anything but promised to find them someone who did, and pointed them at the coffee. John took a good look at his own shaking hands and decided he'd survive without. It struck him as far funnier than it should that they were on a ship that had just been in a space battle and the coffee hadn't even spilled.

He sat down on a table, watched his people – his boys and girls, Mitchell's phrase that John often kind of hated – mill about, get coffee, sit down. Most of them were still carrying their helmets. They were all still armed.

He counted up, then counted again to be sure. A third missing. No Mitchell. No Parker. They didn't have an official second-in-command, but that made John the current highest ranking officer in the squadron, de facto in charge of them. He missed his radio, instant line to someone who could tell him something.

They got quiet, huddled together around a couple of tables, looking over every time the door slid open. John couldn't feel the ship moving, though he knew it was.

The airman came back after a while, to escort them up to the bridge to be beamed down to Area 51. Home, and the thought made everything swim in front of John's eyes for a moment. No-one asked about the others, the missing. They didn't have a lot of hope, but maybe they wanted to hang onto it anyway.

They beamed down in one big group, straight into their hanger, currently empty. John hadn't thought to ask what would happen to their fighters.

They got herded along to the infirmary, settled onto beds and chairs to be examined. John thought maybe it was collective shock – they'd had a year of doing their thing without anything going wrong, gotten cocky.

General Franklin, the head of the entire home-world space flight program, came by, told them they'd done well, that it was over. That there was no word on the missing, yet, but it had only been a little over an hour. It felt longer. John wasn't sure it made any difference – the ice was punishingly cold, and 302s didn't come with central heating.

"Follow the light," the doctor said, flicking a pen light in his eyes. It fractured and blurred as she moved it, but John tracked it anyway. "Good," she said.

The infirmary door opened, and Mitchell walked in.

He looked bruised and exhausted, but Brown was behind him, and they were both walking, both mostly okay. John blinked, in case he was hallucinating, then wished he hadn't, dampness on his cheek. The doctor smiled at him, kindly and sympathetic. "Guess that's some good news," she said, stepping back so John could stand up.

"We thought –" Zhang was saying to Mitchell, who, on closer inspection, looked like he might fall over.

"Thought what?" he asked, sounding as exhausted as he looked. He wasn't looking in John's direction.

"You weren't there when we beamed down," Zhang said.

Mitchell's expression hardened. "No-one... Of course no-one told you. I got pulled away, Carter wanted... It doesn't matter. Fuck. Sorry."

Zhang gave him a hug, too fast for Mitchell to return it. "We're glad you're okay," she said, background of murmured agreement from the others, who'd circled close around him and Brown.

"Same here," Mitchell said softly. He looked up then, saw John, nodded a little. "Who's missing?"

Mitchell ended up sat on John's gurney next to him, gradually tipping further and further into him as he got closer to falling asleep. The medical staff tried to kick them out, then, when it became obvious they weren't going to go, got food brought down for them, and forbade them any more coffee.

A couple of people fell asleep, waking up suddenly. Mitchell dozed against John's shoulder.

Franklin came back eventually. Redford was dead, blown up when his 302 was hit, along with Frederickson. Adiche and her co-pilot, Ferris, had crashed and been killed on impact. Robinson was missing, presumed killed after ejecting, and his co-pilot, Morrow, was in critical condition, unlikely to make it. Three others, including Parker, were being beamed to critical care. No-one was optimistic.

That was everyone. Franklin sent them all home for forty-eight hours.

John drove him and Mitchell, glad it was the middle of the night, that the roads were empty. They went inside without speaking, locked the front door behind them. They hadn't bothered to change out of their flight suits with their 302 patches.

John went to bed, too worn out to take a shower, and slept for fourteen hours.

When he woke up, he could smell bacon cooking, and the world hadn't been enslaved to any alien invaders, and the only thing he could do about the less good parts was get up. Which he did.

It turned out to be easier than he'd expected.


They had a month of peace and quiet – no-one tried to invade them, no-one decided to send their depleted squadron off-world to train, no-one even dropped in from the IOA to bother them when they were trying to work. John thought sometimes that they could have used the distraction, but they needed the downtime just as much, hit hard by so many losses in one battle, by the reminder that it wasn't all fun and games in space fighters.

Then General O'Neill woke up out of stasis, and, as though everyone had just been waiting for that to happen, life went right back to its regular level of chaotic crazy.

Starting with the entire squadron being beamed into Antarctica.

"We're seriously here just to sit in a chair?" Anderson asked. He'd become more tolerable since Parker's injury, but more tolerable wasn't the same as actually tolerable, and had in fact been rapidly reversing itself ever since it became clear that Parker would soon be rejoining them.

"Yes, Captain, we're seriously all here just to sit in a chair," Mitchell said, putting on his very best patient voice. "An Ancient, powerful chair, to find out if any of us have a gene to give us a ticket on a trip to another galaxy, but still, here to sit in a chair."

Lieutenant Ford, the marine guard they'd met on the surface, turned away to hide his smile, catching John's eye in the process and turning the smile on him. John grinned back, pleased to see someone looking happy in amongst the ice and the angry sounding scientists.

"Though we're all hoping for humanity's sake that none of you do," one of the scientists put in, glaring indiscriminately at all of them.

"That's a little harsh," John told him. "You don't even know us."

"And I'm sure we'll all be happier if things stay that way," the scientist said. "Since you're so keen, Major, why don't you go first?"

The chair looked like something from the set of a children's Christmas play, all silver-white and weirdly carved. "What happens when I do?" he asked.

"Hopefully nothing," the scientist said.

His colleague glared at him. "Hopefully, Major, you'll be able to activate the chair, which would make you a carrier of the ATA – ancient technology activation – gene. And then I'll be taking a sample of your blood to add to the samples we're trying to synthesize a copy of the gene from."

John and the others had already had the lecture on Ancient technology, he was pretty sure they didn't need it again from a Scottish doctor. "Okay then," he said, and sat down.

Nothing happened.

"Ah well," the doctor said resignedly. The scientist glared at John like he was doing it on purpose; John glared back, since the scientist hadn't wanted him anyway thirty seconds ago. "Up you get, Major, who's next?"

John slid gratefully out of the chair – having the ability to control weapons with his mind sounded kind of cool, but he wasn't sold on having to go to another galaxy in exchange.

Everyone looked at everyone else, like they didn't do more risky things than sit in chairs on any given day, then Mitchell looked at John, sighed, and said, "Guess it's me, then."

Nothing happened for him either, and John tried not to be too obvious about letting out the breath he'd been holding as Mitchell stood up and rejoined him. "Guess we're stuck with each other," Mitchell said, not looking at him.

John followed Mitchell's gaze to Zhang, sitting gingerly on the edge of the chair, and let a little bit of his smile show. "Guess so."

He tried not to be too outwardly gleeful when Anderson turned out to have the gene and was immediately swept away by a clutch of scientists, including the pissed off one who turned out to be Dr McKay and in charge.

Tried being the operative word there.


That trip was followed almost immediately by the announcement that the Prometheus would be getting a team of 302s onboard, and that Major-now-Lieutenant-Colonel Parker, newly returned to them from injury, would be joining the Prometheus as squadron leader.

"How did that happen?" John grumbled, heading home with Mitchell that evening. Not that he was sorry to be rid of Parker.

"General Franklin offered him a new posting if he wanted it, after being injured," Mitchell said.

"He wasn't even that serious." He was already getting more than the others who'd been injured in the battle over Antarctica, both of whom were getting medical discharges to go with their Purple Hearts.

"Sorry," Mitchell said, watching the road very intently.

"For what?" John asked.

Mitchell gave him a quick glance, then away again. "It should probably have been you."

John laughed, couldn't help it, even when Mitchell gave him a worried, betrayed look. "The last thing I want is to be stuck on the Prometheus with nothing to do for six days out of every seven," John told him, which was close enough to the truth.

"You'd rather stay here than spend your time cruising the galaxy in a space ship?" Mitchell asked.

"Wouldn't you?" John asked.

"Point," Mitchell agreed.

A week later, John got a letter telling him that he was being made official second in command of the 201st Space Fighter Squadron, based out of Area 51.

"Did you know about this?" he demanded of Mitchell, when he managed to track him down to the locker room.

Mitchell stopped with his t-shirt half on to look at John. "I don't know, what are we talking about?"

"This," John said, holding the letter up for Mitchell to read.

Mitchell skimmed the first couple of lines, then shrugged. "I think someone might have mentioned it to me, yeah."

"I didn't want this," John said, not sure if he was angry at Mitchell for interfering, or touched that he had. Maybe both.

"You're ready," Mitchell said, frowning at him. "More than ready."

"It's not your place to-" John started, then remembered that he was talking to his CO, even if Mitchell really didn't feel like that these days. "I wasn't angling to be offered this."

"Don't do it if it bothers you so much," Mitchell said. "I can give you a letter of recommendation for somewhere else."

"Just like that?" John asked, stung. "I didn't mean..." He stopped, because clearly Mitchell did: take what I'm offering you, or get out.

"Didn't mean what?" Mitchell asked, sounding frustrated.

"It doesn't matter," John said, turning away.

Mitchell caught his arm before he could move away. "Okay, let's start this over. Congratulations on being offered the position, I was hoping you would be when Franklin asked me who I wanted. Think about it, I hope you take it."

John blinked, trying to wrap his head around what Mitchell was getting at. "You didn't – this isn't because Parker got made squadron leader on the Prometheus?"

"I don't have that kind of sway," Mitchell said. He let go of John's arm and added, quietly, "I'm just the guy who let five of his people get killed."

John floundered, not sure what to say. They didn't talk about the battle over Antarctica, about the people they'd lost, beyond what they'd had to for de-briefing and attendance at the memorials. Mitchell had seemed okay about it, like he was moving past it. "That wasn't your fault," he said.

Mitchell ducked his head. "Feels like it," he said, low and final; conversation over.

John hesitated, then said, "I'll take it. The position, I'll take it."

"Okay," Mitchell said, sounding pleased. "Come on, let's get out of here."

Walking out, Mitchell said, "Franklin asked me to recommend someone, I told him you, no question. It's got nothing to do with our being friends."

John wasn't completely sure he believed Mitchell, but he thought probably Mitchell believed himself. "Thanks," he said.


Three days later, Holland phoned to tell John he was being reassigned.

"Yeah?" John asked, feeling vaguely guilty. He hadn't spoken to Holland since he went back on duty in January Christmas. "Where to?"

Holland laughed. "I don't exactly know."

"Might make getting a transport kind of hard," John said.

"You'd know," Holland said dryly. He laughed again, sounding almost nervous. "Guess you wouldn't know anything about it."

"Should I?" John asked, trying to ignore the sinking feeling Holland's words brought on.

"You tell me," Holland said. There was a beat of silence while John tried to figure out if he could risk it or not, then Holland, still sounding weird, said, "Okay, I gotta go. See you later, maybe."

"Sure," John said absently, hanging up.

Mitchell was sitting on the floor, leaning against the couch and typing industriously at his laptop when John wandered back in. "Everything okay?" he asked, looking up.

"Yeah," John said, sitting down next to him and resisting the urge to ask why they were sitting on the floor. "We getting new people?"

"Hmm?" Mitchell asked, already focused back on the screen. John nudged him and he looked up. "New people? Yeah, next week. They're going to use us as the training squadron while they get the others up and running."

"Oh," John said.

Mitchell typed for a few seconds again, then looked back up, conversation on time delay. "Why d'you ask?"

"I think I know one of them," John said, since it was more diplomatic than I sometimes sleep with one of them.

"Yeah?" Mitchell asked, gone absent again. "Who?"

"Holland," John said.

Mitchell froze for a long moment, then looked at John, his face unreadable. "Oh," he said. "Is that going to be a problem?"

John looked away, certain that Mitchell had heard what he wasn't saying about Holland anyway. "No. Be nice to be working with him again."

"Yeah," Mitchell said. From the corner of his eye, John saw him look down and away, and John abruptly couldn't stand whatever Mitchell's secret was, whatever kept making him look that way, over a year since they'd started working together.

"Can I ask you something?" he asked.

"Sure," Mitchell said.

"What happened before you got assigned here?" John asked quietly.

Mitchell sat very still while John tried not to be too obvious about not looking at him. "I don't know what you're talking about," Mitchell said finally, closing his laptop with a sharp click.

"I –" John said, then stopped, hurt. "Sorry, sir, I didn't mean to pry."

"Fuck," Mitchell said softly. He shoved his laptop aside and drew his knees up. "I didn't mean it like that."

"It's none of my business," John said. He wasn't sure why he was still sitting there, but he didn't want to move, not yet.

"Don't –" Mitchell started, then sighed. "It's not about you, it's..."

"You don't have to tell me," John said, which he thought was probably obvious. He just couldn't tell if Mitchell maybe wanted to anyway.

"There was an accident," Mitchell said, sounding like he was speaking through a mouthful of crushed glass, hurt enough that John wished he hadn't asked. "It was my fault, a friend of mine got hurt. Medical discharge."

It said more than enough for John to get it, to get why Mitchell got weird when John talked about Holland, who'd been injured and gotten better, who John had saved. "I'm sorry," John said, meaning more than just for what had happened, trusting to Mitchell to get it.

"Thanks," Mitchell said, and stood up and walked out.


John pretty much knew, even before Mitchell double-checked the new personnel list for him, that Holland would be coming; he just had that kind of luck. And it was nice, no question, to be working with Holland again, even if it was probably only temporary, until he got permanently assigned to one of the other squadrons.

Of course, the downside of having one of his closest friends physically close again was that John could get a hell of a lot less past Holland than he could anyone else, including Mitchell.

"You've got a crush," Holland declared, a week into his time with them, lounging next to John on Holland's new apartment's couch.

"Fuck off," John told him sweetly, accepting the beer Holland offered.

"Don't be like that," Holland said, mock-wounded. "It's cute."

"I'm not cute."

"You should see yourself around him," Holland said, laughing at John. "I'm surprised you're not doodling little love hearts on your flight records."

"I should have left you to bleed out in the desert," John said.

Holland gave him a brief, one-armed hug before John could wrestle out of it. "You know you love me really."

"Is that what it is?" John asked, wriggling the rest of the way out of Holland's embrace. He hesitated, then figured he kind of had to ask, even if he'd probably regret it later. "Is this going to be a problem?"

"Given how obvious you are? Probably." Holland took a long swallow of beer, grinning at John. "Don't worry, I'll defend your honor. Tell everyone about all the women you've slept with while I've known you. What's it been, like two?"

John rolled his eyes. "That's not what I meant."

"Well, I don't know him that well, so I can't really speak to his feelings, but I don't think Mitchell's going to go running for the hills should you ever man up and tell him."

"That either."

Holland sobered up. "You want to try some clarity, then?"

"I meant, with you and me," John said, picking at the label on his bottle, wishing he'd never started the conversation.

Even more so when Holland laughed. "You mean, am I going to pine away to a withered husk because you want to be dating your CO instead of fooling around with me? Somehow I think I'll survive."

"I was just trying to be nice," John said, fighting the urge to start laughing with him. It sounded kind of ridiculous put like that.

"I'll probably waste away in enforced celibacy, weeping single tears into my pretty lace pillow while you ride off into the sunset with your –"

"Okay, stop already," John groaned, laughing. "I get it, I was a passing fancy that you're happy to cast aside now you've got manly scars to lure all the younger boys in with."

"I was going to come up with something more tactful to let you down with, but basically," Holland agreed, and they spent the rest of the evening arguing over who was cheating most at video golf.


John's problem was – well, John's main problem was that Mitchell was his squadron leader and his friend, and they were in the air force, which frowned on that kind of thing – but John's other problem was that, despite what Holland said, he couldn't figure out if it was one-sided or not.

He was maybe ninety per cent sure that Mitchell was into men, maybe even more than he was women, and there was no evidence in all their months of living together that he was involved with anyone, or even really dating. Not that John was either, but John had been on and off sleeping with Holland, and not-really-except-for-how-he-totally-was lusting after Mitchell.

What John couldn't figure out was if Mitchell was into him, specifically, but not acting on it for the same reasons John wasn't, or not into John at all, and just a good friend.

And what he really couldn't figure out was what it meant that, regardless of how Mitchell did or didn't feel about him, he was pretty sure he'd be quite happy for an indefinite but lengthy period of time to just go on being the kind of friends that they already were.

Of course, it helped that being on the frontline defending Earth kept him pretty busy, and that was before adding in Zhang and Brown, and their on-going debate over whether one of them should transfer off the squadron so they could quit sneaking around (ineffectively, given that John knew about them despite actively trying not to); Holland and his apparent quest to force John into having a social life that included someone other than Mitchell; the arrival of young, blond Dr Keller to take over as squadron doctor and all the ensuring drama of her on-again-off-again relationship with Lieutenant Ford, who'd been bumped down to Area 51 after being left out of the Atlantis expedition when he took a leave of absence to care for his dying grandfather.

All of which meant that, when Franklin announced that the Daedalus was finally ready to make the trip to Pegasus in search of the Atlantis expedition, and would therefore be taking a chunk of their squadron to crew the 302s, John actually had to count up the months before he realized the expedition had left well over a year ago, closer to eighteen months.

"You think they're still out there?" he asked Mitchell, sat on the opposite side of Mitchell's desk as they poked through crew files, trying to pick out enough trained people who they weren't attached to to make up a squadron for the Daedalus.

"Hope so," Mitchell said.

John didn't know any of the people who'd gone out there well, other than passing by them on their short visit to the Antarctic base, but they'd been reported to have arrived safely. The idea of beaming down to find a city of dead bodies made him shiver. "I'm not going, right?" he asked, just in case.

"Nope," Mitchell said, actually digging out John's file and moving it to the no pile. "You belong to me, remember?" he added, which made John shiver in a whole different way.


Two days after the Daedalus left, Mitchell didn't show up for duty in the morning.

It was a little weird, but John had spent the night crashed out on Holland's couch, and maybe something had come up that he didn't know about. It wasn't like they were joined at the hip; Mitchell didn't have to tell him what he was doing.

Not that that stopped John from sending him a message the first chance he got: You okay?

"Anything?" Holland asked over lunch, watching John check his cell.

John shook his head, trying to curb the curl of worry in his stomach. If anything bad had happened, they'd know about it, but he couldn't stop thinking about Mitchell's dad, how much damage he could do to himself if he fell, Mitchell's sister-in-law who was five months pregnant, what if..?

Holland was still looking at John, his expression gone thoughtful in a way that made John glad they were sitting alone. "What?" John asked.

Holland shrugged. "It's weird. Seeing you look like that when no-one's shooting at us."

"I'm not," John started, then gave it up with a sigh. "He's a friend, I'm allowed to worry about him. I spent enough time worrying about you."

Holland just raised his eyebrows at that, and John ducked his head, fighting the blush he could feel creeping up his throat, knowing what Holland was thinking about.

"I'm sure everything's fine," Holland said.


It was immediately apparent when John got home that everything wasn't. Mitchell was pacing in front of the couch, phone pressed to his ear, expression tense. He didn't look over when John let himself in, just nodded at whatever the person on the other end was saying and said, "I know that. I know that, just –"

John hung his jacket up and toed off his boots as quietly as he could, wondering if he should find somewhere else to be. Not that there was anywhere to be in their apartment where he wouldn't be able to overhear.

"Please," Mitchell said, sounding tired. "Can you just ask, I'll owe you, anything you want. I know, Carter." A pause, then, "I know that," again, his voice edging into frustrated. "I'm not asking for clearance, I'm just asking to get him into the hospital." He reached up to rub his eyes, then said, "Thank you. I really appreciate it. Call me when... Okay. Thanks. Thank you."

It wasn't until he hung up the phone that John snapped out of it and remembered he probably shouldn't have been listening in. Nothing to be done about it now. "Everything okay?" he asked, making his voice light.

Mitchell started, turning sharply to look at him before relaxing. "Sheppard. Didn't hear you come in."

"I'm sneaky that way," John agreed. "You okay?"

"Yeah," Mitchell said, then seemed to realize how false that sounded and amended it to, "Sort of. My friend... the one with the medical discharge."

It'd been well over a year, but John still remembered, crystal clear, sitting next to Mitchell on their floor and listening to him scrape up the bare minimum of that story, then leave. "Yeah."

Mitchell winced, looked away, and John felt an alarming urge to hug him. "They – a couple of weeks ago they found an aneurysm in his brain, where the shrapnel is. It's pretty serious."

"I'm sorry," John said quietly.

Mitchell looked absently in his direction. "I just found out. I'm trying to get him in to see one of the SGC's docs, see if maybe they can do something the rest can't."

"That sounds good," John agreed. Even just the equipment Keller had amazed him, alien machines and advanced technology. If anyone could save Mitchell's friend, it would be the SGC.

"I hope so. Carter's pulling some strings for me." Mitchell didn't sound hopeful, just exhausted, and John wondered how long he'd been on the phone to people, when he'd heard.

"Come on," he said. "I'll make dinner."

Mitchell nodded, still not really looking at John, who got the distinct impression that Mitchell was already somewhere else.


It took nearly a week for Mitchell to get his friend – Ferguson, Bryce Ferguson, and John sort of wished he didn't know, because he could admit he was desperately curious about Mitchell's supposed part in the accident – into a hospital, at which point he promptly took a few days personal leave and flew down to visit.

"Good friend," Holland said when John told him.

"I guess," John agreed, knowing what Holland really meant. He wasn't sure Holland was wrong.

"Guess he's lucky he's got Mitchell watching out for him," Holland added, nudging John with his elbow and grinning at him when John turned.

"Yeah," John agreed.

He found it weirdly hard to focus with Mitchell gone, kept turning for his support when he gave an order and feeling off-balance when Mitchell wasn't there. Their apartment, which had always seemed like it was maybe a little on the small side, suddenly seemed huge, full of empty space for John to rattle around in, and too quiet. So quiet that he spent a couple of days seriously contemplating moving onto the base again until Mitchell came back, before he decided that was pathetic beyond the telling of it, and started leaving the radio on, volume turned down, whenever he was there alone.

Mitchell didn't call, which didn't really surprise John, even though he picked up the phone at least a couple of times a day to call Mitchell, check he was doing okay, ask about Ferguson. He figured no news was probably – hopefully – good news, that if something bad had happened, Mitchell would have come back.

He tried not to think that, if something good had happened, Mitchell probably would have come back as well.

When the news came through that the Daedalus had found the Atlantis mission, still in the city, still mostly alive and mostly well, John barely registered it, unlike the rest of the team.

"I'd kill to get my hands on even the initial reports," Somers said, leaning her head on one hand and staring into space. She'd always been closer to John than anyone else, his co-pilot since before the battle in Antarctica, but since she'd finished her studies, she'd started joining in with everyone else a bit more, and turned out to be a closet anthropology geek. "All those different planets, new cultures..."

"I thought Colonel Sumner was set on keeping them in the city," Ford said.

"That was before he met Dr Weir," Holland said. John had no clue how he knew that already – the man had ears everywhere some days. "Even marine colonels bow before her."

"Now that I'd pay to see," Zhang muttered, stealing a couple of Somers' fries.

Somers poked the back of Zhang's hand with her fork and said, "Yeah, plus it turned out there was a 10,000 year old version of Dr Weir in stasis in the city, and when she woke up, she had gate addresses for worlds with ZPMs. Don't think the colonel could put up much of a fight after that."

"So why didn't they come home months ago?" Zhang asked. John decided he wasn't even going to try to follow the conversation, since everyone in it appeared to know far more than he did. Clearly he wasn't giving them enough to do.

"They suck at interplanetary diplomacy," Somers said cheerfully.

"Dr Weir's an international diplomat," Zhang protested.

"Yeah, she's amazing," Ford agreed, then, when half the table turned to look at him, "What? She is."

"Sumner kept her in the city," Holland said. "Deal in exchange for sending teams off-world, and they ended up having to give back the ZPM they found."

"Talk about a waste of a perfectly good skill set," Zhang grumbled. "Is he staying?"

"I heard the SGC wants to send an air force officer out instead, apparently it's all air combat."

"They have planes?" John asked.

Holland grinned. "Knew that'd wake you up. Not planes, some kind of – space ship, sort of. They sent video."


Zhang shook her head. " 'Fraid not, sir. Be grateful you're a 302 pilot."



John's cell rang at ten thirty that evening, waking him from where he'd been half-asleep in front of a re-run of a movie he was pretty sure he'd slept through the first time as well. He fumbled for it, bleary-eyed, saw Mitchell's name on the screen, and tried to brace himself for the worst.


"It's me," Mitchell said, and John knew he'd made the right call, bracing for the worst. Mitchell sounded defeated and exhausted, the way he'd been after Antarctica, waiting to hear who'd died. "It's Cam."

"Hey," John said softly. He couldn't ask is Ferguson okay? or are you all right?, already knew the answers, but he wasn't sure what to say instead. "Where are you?"

"Airport," Mitchell said. "My flight's boarding in a few minutes."

That, at least, John could deal with. "What time do you land out here?"

"Bit after one," Mitchell said. "Sorry, I know it's late, I just..."

"I'll come get you," John said firmly. "Don't worry about it."

"Thanks," Mitchell said, and trailed off into the kind of silence that John hated, not sure if Mitchell wanted to talk more or hang up.

"They found Atlantis," he said eventually, just for something to say.

"I heard," Mitchell said. "Carter's at Cheyenne Mountain now."

"Good," John said. He couldn't keep track of Carter, who seemed to bounce between the Prometheus and Cheyenne Mountain and Area 51 at random, had since SG1 split up right before the expedition left. He was glad that she'd been around for Mitchell though. "Our guys are treating the whole thing like a soap opera. I keep expecting to walk into the locker room and find them taking bets on who hooked up."

"They're probably just doing it where you won't catch them," Mitchell offered, sounding a little better.

John gave himself a mental pat on the back. "That's what worries me," he said dryly.

"Long as they're not betting on you," Mitchell said.

"I think that's a given," John told him.

On the other end of the line, an announcement started up, too muffled for John to make out. Mitchell waited it out, then said, "I gotta go, that's my flight."

John bit down the urge to say something that would keep him on the phone. "See you in a couple of hours."

"Yeah," Mitchell said softly, and hung up.


John had gotten to the airport way too early, which meant he drank more coffee than was probably healthy, but also meant that, when Mitchell was one of the first people to walk into Arrivals, John was there to meet him.

"Hey," he said, stepping into Mitchell's path, since he was looking down at his boots.

Mitchell looked up, startled, said, "Hey," back, and then, John wasn't really sure how, he had his arms around Mitchell and was hugging him, was being hugged back. Which was weird, and should have been uncomfortable, because John didn't hug, and he definitely didn't hug men in airport lounges. Except he couldn't stop, because Mitchell had dropped his bag and was holding on tight to John, his breathing shuddery against John's neck, not quite sobs, but on the way there.

"I'm sorry," John said, patting his back a little, then just leaving his hand there. "I'm so sorry."

Mitchell spilled bits and pieces on the ride home, face turned to the window like he'd forgotten John could see his reflection in the darkened glass.

"I think he figured it out, the program, what we're doing..."

"It should have been me..."

"The funeral's at the weekend, they're waiting for his sister to come back, she's deployed..."

"I should have let him stay in Iowa, there wasn't anything..."

John didn't say anything – didn't think Mitchell needed him to – just drove quietly, filing it all away, that Mitchell had come back for barely two days when he could have stayed away, had come home for the familiarity – for John, maybe – and that the SGC hadn't been able to do a thing for Ferguson, that he'd died with Mitchell there and no-one else.

And threading through all of it, Mitchell's terrible, painful guilt.


Mitchell was quiet, waiting out the days until he flew out for Ferguson's funeral, not quite his normal self, but close enough for John to feel like he was waiting for the other shoe to drop, even when Mitchell was gone, even after Mitchell came back and didn't call John for a ride from the airport.

He kind of hated trying to pretend everything was fine with Mitchell, at the same time as he appreciated the irony of it, since pretending everything was fine was pretty much his standard way of dealing with things.

Probably fortunately, most of their squadron was distracted by the news that Homeworld Security and the IOA wanted to send a 302 squadron out to Atlantis as part of the mass shake-up of 302 squadrons they were planning.

"So are you taking reassignment requests?" Somers asked John, waiting for clearance to go up.

"You sick of us?" John asked.

"Yep," Somers said brightly, laughing in John's ear. "No, I just... want to go to Atlantis."

"Kind of far away," John said.

Somers sighed. "There's more... You know Colonel Carter, right?"


"She's got a PhD that she actually gets to use. That's never going to happen to me here. I worked hard for that."

"Mitchell would write you a letter of recommendation for an SG team," John said.

He could feel Somers shaking her head, even though he couldn't see her. "It's Atlantis. A whole new galaxy. There's never going to be anything else like that."

"Ask Mitchell," John said, trying to hide his disappointment. He'd gotten used to Somers and Zhang and Brown, pretty much the last of the original squadron with him and Mitchell. The thought of them being scattered across several planets, a couple of Daedalus-class ships, and another galaxy was going to take some getting used to.

"Don't worry, sir," Somers said, sounding like she was grinning. "I'll make sure they replace me with someone who can keep you in line."

"You're all heart, Captain," John told her, before the go order cut them off.

As it turned out, getting reassigned was slightly less of a matter of personal choice than everyone had been treating it as though it would be.

"While they were in Atlantis, Dr Beckett developed a synthetic ATA gene," Franklin explained during one briefing. "It's been deemed quite safe, though it doesn't seem to work on everyone. You'll all be receiving the injection before we go about the redeployment."

A couple of people didn't quite swallow their groans, which made Franklin smile. "Getting gene therapy that works on you isn't an automatic reassignment to Atlantis, just part of assessing where we're best placed to send our resources. We try not to send anyone who doesn't want to go."

"Try being the operative word," John muttered to Mitchell as they all filed out. "When did the air force last take no for an answer?"

"Yeah," Mitchell said, sounding tired, still. "Not usually another galaxy though."

"Believe it when I see it," John said. "I heard McKay's going back."

"Wonderful," Mitchell said.


John woke up in the middle of the night, disoriented and thirsty. The apartment was cool enough for him to wish he'd gotten into Nancy's habit of keeping a glass of water on the nightstand, knowing it would take him ages to get warm again.

He pulled the covers further over his head, trying to convince himself that he wasn't really thirsty, or fall back asleep.

It didn't work.

John sighed, threw the covers back and winced at the cool air against his sleep warm skin. He didn't bother to turn the light on, knowing the room well enough to stumble through it until he opened the door and found, to his surprise, a light on in the kitchen.

The door was half closed, so John couldn't see at first if Mitchell was there, or had just left the light on. Then he got a little closer, enough to see Mitchell sitting at the table, one hand curled around a coffee mug, the other half-covering his eyes. He'd obviously been to bed for a while, wearing a gray sweatshirt over pajama pants, and then John finally realized what he was hearing, caught the fine tremors running across Mitchell's shoulders.

He hesitated, torn between being weirdly relieved that Mitchell wasn't spending all his time pretending he was fine, and wanting to go offer comfort, however awkward he knew it would be.

Except that Mitchell was his friend, knew John cared about him, and had chosen to do his grieving in what he probably assumed would be private. If he'd wanted John, he wouldn't be sitting in their kitchen in the middle of the night.

John went back to bed, still thirsty, and lay awake for a long time, didn't hear Mitchell go back to bed.


Mitchell seemed better after that, enough for John to wonder if something had happened to bring on the middle of the night tears. One more thing not to ask about.

He was pretty sure he was the only one who noticed the change, everyone else buzzing with the results of the gene therapy and who might get sent where. John kept a mental list of who it took for – him, Mitchell, Zhang, not Somers, who was pretty devastated by the news, Ito, who'd joined them five months ago, not Holland, to his excessive cheer, Smith, Anderson The Second – trying to figure out how they might get split.

How likely it was that he and Mitchell would be split up.

"It's time you had your own command," Mitchell said when he caught John in the office, shuffling files.

John shook his head. He'd come to the conclusion a while ago that he might not have been sent to the 302s as a punishment for disobeying orders, but that didn't mean he wasn't still being punished. He figured he was lucky he'd wound up somewhere he wanted to be, since he didn't like his chances of being promoted to something else. "Pretty sure you're stuck with me," he said.

It made Mitchell smile, the kind of real, broad smile that John hadn't seen for a while. "I guess I can live with that," he said.


The reassignment letters appeared in all their lockers one morning a couple of weeks after they'd received the gene therapy.

"So?" Holland asked, leaning on John's locker and tapping his opened envelope against his thigh.

John turned his over, not sure he wanted to know what it said. "You?"

"Daedalus," Holland said. "Major Hernandez resigned her commission."

"Congratulations," John said. Parker was still on the Prometheus, which ruled out a ship, to John's relief.

"Dude," Holland said, rolling his eyes. "It's not gonna start saying what you want it to because you don't open it."

"Maybe it already says what I want it to," John argued. Except that he didn't know what he wanted it to say, other than 'with Colonel Mitchell,' which he wasn't admitting to Holland, however well Holland already knew it.

Holland laughed. "You've got it real bad."

Which John really couldn't argue with.

Somers bounced up to him before he'd taken half a dozen steps from the locker room and flung her arms around him.

"Good news?" John asked dryly.

"Atlantis," Somers sing-songed, hugging Holland as well. "Even without the gene."

"That's great," Holland said when she released him. "You know who you're going with?" he asked, looking at John.

"Someone said Colonel Mitchell, but I don't know. I'm gonna find Jiao."

She darted off, like a kid at Christmas.

"Seriously, man," Holland said when she was gone. "Just open the damn thing."

"Not yet," John said. "Come on, let's find the others."

The briefing room was buzzing like John's faded memories of the final days of college, people comparing assignments, mocking each other's new postings. Zhang and Somers were huddled together in one corner, grinning, which John took to mean they'd both gotten assigned to Atlantis, particularly since Brown looked a lot less happy.

Mitchell was sitting on the briefing table, next to Dr Keller, who looked crestfallen.

"Go, already," Holland said, shoving John in his direction.

John went, since the other option was stumbling into the group of pilots standing near them.

"Hey, Major," Keller said when he got close enough.

"Doctor. Mitchell."

Mitchell's face didn't change, but Keller brightened a little. "Say you're staying."

"Um," John said, hesitating. "I take it you are?"

"Yeah," Keller said, slumping again. "With a new commander."

"You're going?" John asked Mitchell, surprised. "Where?"

"Atlantis," Mitchell said. "You?"

John held up his unopened letter.

"You developed x-ray vision?" Mitchell asked, amused.

"Not exactly," John said, feeling his face start to warm. He pretty much knew he was being weird about the whole thing, but it felt a hell of a lot weirder with Keller standing there.

"You want me to do it?" Mitchell asked, holding his hand out.

Yes. "No." John hesitated, then tore the envelope open, skimming it until he caught the word he wanted – Atlantis.


"So, listen," Mitchell said abruptly that evening, twisting round on the couch to look at John. He looked oddly nervous, enough to infect John as well.


Mitchell looked down and away, laughing a little, at himself, John thought, then back up, expression softening. "Do you want to sleep with me?"

"Do I – what?" John asked, jerking away on auto-pilot.

Mitchell's expression was darkening down into discomfort. "Sorry, I –"

"No, just..." John half-raised his hand to catch Mitchell before he could move away, then let it drop again before it made contact. "Why are you asking me?" Mitchell just looked at him like John was losing his mind. "Never mind. Why are you asking me now?"

Mitchell shrugged, still uncomfortable. "I thought..."

John couldn't let him keep on like that. "I do," he said, low-voiced. It felt way too intimate. Way too much like a huge step beyond the friendship they'd had for years, like risking all of it for... "One time only offer?"

"Sure," Mitchell said, the discomfort replaced with something else that John couldn't identify. "If you want."

"I don't know," John said carefully, trying to feel out the edges of what Mitchell was offering. "I thought you did."

"I want..." Mitchell trailed off, then reached over very slowly to rest his hand on John's fore-arm, a single bright hot point of contact. "I don't think Atlantis is the place to start anything," he said. "And I wanted to try, before we go. Keep trying."

"Oh," John said quietly. "Um. Maybe you should kiss me, then."

"I can do that," Mitchell said.

John, as much as he'd thought about the actual mechanics of hooking up with Mitchell, had worried that it would be awful, that it would turn out they really were better friends than lovers and that trying for the latter would fuck up the former.

As it turned out, he needn't have worried. Mitchell kissed like he was trying to keep something back, something deeper than just wanting the contact, his hands careful on John, even when he was maneuvering John to go where he wanted, tipping John's head to the right angle and drawing him closer. It felt oddly familiar, like an extension of their friendship, of the easy way they'd learned to move around each other, gotten used to living in each other's space.

It felt like a long time later when they broke apart, and John was pretty sure his brain was running on auto-pilot when he said, "Yeah, okay. I kind of get why you're in charge."

Mitchell started laughing, sounding vaguely hysterical. "Way to ruin the moment, Sheppard."

"Oh, I dunno." John leaned in to kiss him again – he thought that was going to get addictive, fast. "Depends on what kind of moment we're having."

Mitchell shuddered against him, still laughing a little. "You're going to be the death of me."

"Yeah, but what a way to go," John said brightly. He considered it for a moment, then decided they were probably way past trying to make a sensible decision, and tilted his head in the direction of his bedroom. "You wanna..?"

"And they say romance is dead," Mitchell grumbled, pulling John to his feet.

"I'm sorry, I guess I missed the candles and wine you used to proposition me," John said, following him and choosing not to mention that Mitchell still had his hand round John's wrist.

"Next time," Mitchell promised absently.

"Right," John said doubtfully. "Seriously, least romantic pick-up ever."

That actually got Mitchell to turn around, mostly so he could give John an incredibly doubtful look. "Fifteen years in the air force, somehow I'm not convinced."

John gave him a mock-wounded look back. "I've only ever had sex as part of a deeply fulfilling and committed relationship," he said, fighting the smile that tried to break through.

"My mistake," Mitchell said, and nudged John into falling into the middle of Mitchell's bed so Mitchell could crawl over him and hold him there. John raised one eyebrow at the assumption, which made Mitchell shrug against him. "You said I was in charge."

"I don't think..." John started, but Mitchell leaned down to kiss him again, and somehow that seemed more important than continuing the discussion. They were about to go to another galaxy together, he was pretty sure they'd have time for it then.

"This is okay, right?" Mitchell said after a while, pulling back to give John a concerned look that John found weirdly sweet, if annoying.

"Here," he said, figuring direct couldn't hurt, and pulled Mitchell's hand down to cover his erection through his jeans. "Big enough clue, or do you need a signed declaration?"

"No, that's a big enough clue," Mitchell said, his face twisted like he was trying really hard not to smile, and clearly failing when he started laughing again a moment later, dropping his forehead against John's shoulder.

John hugged him, felt Mitchell shuddering with amusement against him. "I thought the giggly stage came after sex."

"I like to be different," Mitchell said, still laughing. His hand tightened on John's cock, making John hiss even through a couple of layers of material. "You wanna take your pants off, at least?"

"I'm not the one manhandling people into bed fully dressed," John pointed out. "Or the one resting his total body weight on said people."

"How did I forget how bad you are at taking direction?" Mitchell asked, sitting back on his heels and opening John's pants for him.

John batted his hands away with a pointed look at Mitchell's own pants, the outline of his cock, and raised his hips to struggle out of his clothes without getting up. "No idea. Probably a sign of advancing age."

"Probably a sign of madness induced by too much time trying to keep all of you in line," Mitchell corrected, pulling off his t-shirt. It shouldn't have been anything worth noting – John had shared an apartment and a locker room with the guy for years, seen him half-naked, and occasionally completely naked, on several occasions – but apparently this was one of those things were context really mattered, because suddenly Mitchell without his shirt on wasn't just worth looking at, it was the kind of hot that made John want to pull him close, press as much of his bare skin against Mitchell's as he could.

Which, given that they were half-naked in bed together, he could. And did.

Mitchell clearly hadn't been expecting it, so he collapsed on John with a huff, too much of his weight going down on John's left arm until he moved. John barely noticed – Mitchell hadn't gotten as far as taking off his boxers, and the rough material, the hard line of his cock behind it, was a sudden, intense shock against John's bare skin. He pushed up into it at the same moment as Mitchell shifted his weight, bearing down a little more on John, and it felt good. Great. Amazing.

"Wait, let me," Mitchell said, shifting to pull away.

"Uh-uh," John said intelligently, wrapping one leg around the back of Mitchell's thighs to hold him there and rubbing against him again. "Like this," he added.

Mitchell opened his mouth to say something, then closed it again, letting a little more of his weight settle against John and using the momentum to lean the rest of the way in and kiss him.

John parted his lips for Mitchell's tongue, let Mitchell take control of the kissing while John took control of the rest, settling into an easy rocking motion against Mitchell's cock, feeling Mitchell get into it, matching the rhythm. He closed his eyes, let himself fall into the sensation, Mitchell over and around him, soft sheets under him, the sound of their breathing and the warmth of Mitchell's mouth against his, and his orgasm swept him away, clinging to Mitchell and groaning.

"Oh fuck," Mitchell said, sounding far away. He pulled back before John was quite ready, and John felt Mitchell's hand slide between them, knew Mitchell was jerking himself off. He really wanted to watch, but apparently his brain was more interested in that plan than his body was.

Still, listening to Mitchell come, feeling it against John's over-sensitive cock, was a pretty good substitute, he decided hazily.

When he managed to get his eyes to cooperate, Mitchell was sprawled half on John, half on the bed, his head on John's shoulder, his eyes closed. He was still wearing his pants, pushed halfway down, and his hair was mussed, though John couldn't quite figure out how, since John had been the one writhing against the pillows.

"Hey," John said, patting Mitchell's back, where his hand had apparently landed at some point. He realized, belatedly, that his leg was still curled around Mitchell's and straightened it, before he cramped up and was stuck there. Not that that would be so bad.

"Gimme a minute," Mitchell mumbled, but he lifted his head readily enough, so that John could kiss him. His eyes were bleary, like he'd just been woken up. It looked good on him. "Hmm," Mitchell said, laying his head down again.

John wrapped his arms around Mitchell, pulling him a little closer, even though the press of Mitchell's damp boxers against his skin made his nerves jump a little.

"Hmm," Mitchell said again, sounding more thoughtful.

"What?" John asked, stroking a hand idly over the patch of skin under his fingers. They should really get up and shower, but he wasn't ready to let go of this quite yet.

"Cuddly after sex," Mitchell said. He sounded like he was smiling, though he had his head turned so John couldn't tell.

"Guess so," John said, feeling himself blushing. He'd always found it easier to relax after he'd come, easier to say things, or show them, whatever people said about declarations made right after sex not counting.

"S'nice," Mitchell said. He fell silent, pressing himself a little closer to John, for long enough that John started to wonder if he'd fallen asleep. Instead, he stirred a little and said, voice clearer, "You know this won't be as easy in Atlantis?"

"Yeah," John agreed. Atlantis. He'd been so distracted by the relief of knowing he was going with Mitchell that he hadn't given the actual going all that much thought. At least they really had replaced Sumner with an air force officer – John wasn't sure he'd ever be ready to work for a marine CO.

"No living together. CO right there all the time. Small city," Mitchell listed off.

"I know that," John said patiently, wondering if sex always made Mitchell slightly stupid. "We'll figure something out."

"That's not much of a plan," Mitchell said.

"That's what we've got you for," John told him.

"Oh," Mitchell said. John felt Mitchell's eye lashes against his skin, like he'd closed his eyes. "Okay then."

"We'll be fine," John said, meaning, I trust you, and closed his eyes, let himself slide away, wrapped around Mitchell.

Ford/Keller tag to 'Hold On, Here We Go

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