blue flamingos

Breaking Clouds: 12 Moments In The Life Of SG-5

Fandom: Stargate Atlantis/Stargate SG1

Category/Rated: Slash, R

Year/Length: 2010/~12,450 words

Pairing: John/Cam

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

Summary: John's first year with SG-5

Series: Sequel to Gray Skies Surround Me

Author's Notes: Written for sabine_26 who bought me in the help_haiti auction. Thanks to skieswideopen for beta'ing, domtheknight, ocea and scrollgirl's friend for making the football references make sense.

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

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One:

When O'Neill tells them that they're scheduled to go out to Atlantis for five days in a week's time, John's not sure which of the four of them is more surprised, though it's sort of comforting to know that they all forgot, or maybe just all hoped.

He knows his own surprise is more about hoping than forgetting.

"The whole team?" Mitchell asks.

"Yes, Mitchell," O'Neill says, tone of infinite patience. He hasn't looked at John once, and John can't figure out why. He's never going to understand O'Neill. "That would be why I just said 'SG-5, all of you.' You'll go through the gate bridge – we can't afford to lose a whole team for the duration of a Daedalus trip."

There's a beat of silence. John looks down at his boots, still working them in, the laces not even starting to wear through. He wants to ask if he'll have to deal with McKay, if he can keep one of the team with him, but he can't. He already knows what the answers will be, the wrong way round for what he wants.

"If there's nothing else," O'Neill says, and they all mutter, "no, sir," and file out.

In the corridor, Cadman's the only one who looks pleased.

"What are you smiling about?" Vala asks suspiciously.

"Sorry," Cadman says, making a weird face, like she knows how strange it is to be apologizing for being happy. "Lorne's in Atlantis, I haven't seen him in months."

John mouths Lorne? to Mitchell, the two of them walking behind Cadman and Vala, and Mitchell smiles a little, shakes his head like he knows John was really asking if Lorne's her boyfriend.

"Earth's Air Force ambassador to Pegasus," Mitchell says, loud enough for all of them, teasing.

"Really?" John asks.

Cadman rolls her eyes, walking backwards. "No, not really. Colonel Caldwell's Air Force, Mitchell just thinks he's funny."

"I am funny," Mitchell says, mostly to himself.

"All the other Atlantis military are marines," Cadman explains, ignoring him. "And Caldwell didn't go till the end of the second year, so Lorne was the token Air Force officer for a while."

"Why?" John asks.

They all look at each other, then Cadman laughs a little and says, "Actually, I have no idea."

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Vala finds him the night before they're due to leave, sitting in the mess with a mug of coffee and a travel guide to Vancouver that was all he could find to read.

"You should be asleep," she says, sitting opposite him with a slice of strawberry cheesecake.

"So should you," John says. All three of his team-mates offered their couches for the night, but he feels oddly at home here.

Or maybe it's just that he doesn't want them to know he isn't sleeping. He sort of forgot that Vala still spends half her nights on the base, doesn't quite seem to feel comfortable in her off-base apartment.

"I don't need sleep to be beautiful," she says sweetly, licking whip cream from her spoon. He's used to her doing it to be sexy – it's weird to see her doing it just because. "You, on the other hand..."

"Thanks," John says dryly. She's probably right. He feels tired and old, misses the sun.

Vala eats another couple of bites of cheesecake while John sips his coffee in companionable silence, his book abandoned. He's drifting a little, thinking maybe he will sleep, when Vala says, "They're not all like McKay, you know."

"What?" John asks stupidly.

"On Atlantis," Vala clarifies. "I went there once, they're not all as... focused as he is. Focused in the same way that he is."

"Sure," John says, his stomach clenching with dread the same way it does every time he thinks about it – less than 24 hours to go, and they can't come home overnight.

Vala smiles a little, like she suspects he doesn't believe her. "Laura's friend, Major Lorne, is out there. She wouldn't be friends with him if he wasn't a good person. And Daniel Jackson. McKay's not like the rest of them."

"Sure," John says again. It's not that he doesn't believe her – he does, of course he does – he just doesn't feel it. He knows McKay, and even if every single one of the others is just like his team, he's still going to have to see McKay. Nothing's going to change that.

"And we'll be right there," Vala adds, and that does make John feel a little better.

 

Two:

John hesitates outside the bar, standing against the wall away from the Friday evening people traffic. It's just a regular bar, half-full with people catching up after work, starting their weekends, and he knows the rest of the team are in there – Vala sent him a text message five minutes ago asking where he was.

So he's got no reason to be hesitating, and yet. He wishes for a second that he hadn't told Cadman to go on ahead, when Dr Lam grabbed him as he was leaving the base, insisting that he had to have his two-weekly check-up right then, having just come back from five days on Atlantis. Five days with McKay hovering like an angry, clingy, demanding shadow, five days with his team barely ever more than arm's length from him. As much as he hates it, he still feels almost weak with relief that they're back – that no-one tried to physically keep him there, like he'd half-thought they might, though he thinks it's only the way Vala fingered her weapon every time he got close that stopped McKay from trying.

He's still not sure that he doesn't want to be back in his quarters at the mountain, alone, more than he wants to be at a bar, even with his team.

"Come on," he tells himself quietly, and pulls the door open.

The warm air and the noise hit him immediately, and he tastes sand in the back of his throat until he swallows. This is nothing like that.

"John," Vala calls from a round table in the corner.

John's most of the way there when he notices that, in addition to Cadman and Vala, there's a third woman sitting where Mitchell should be. She's older than the two of them, closer to John and Mitchell in age, long blond hair, bearing that screams military.

It's probably a sign that John's getting too used to working at the SGC that he wonders, just for a moment, if Mitchell was the victim of some bizarre technological accident in the couple of hours that have passed since John last saw him.

She stands up when John reaches the table, smiling at him.

"This is Colonel Samantha Carter," Cadman says, something in her voice that makes John look at her, reading unease in her face. She was the one who stuck next to him for most of the trip to Atlantis, who got up in McKay's face and didn't say anything when John just turned away, couldn't deal with him. "Captain John Sheppard."

"Pleased to meet you," Carter says, reaching across to shake his hand.

"You too, ma'am," John says, forcing himself not to look for Mitchell.

"You don't have to call me that tonight," she says as she sits down. "I'm not here in any official capacity."

John got that from her jeans and blouse, but what he doesn't get is why she is here, especially now, right after Atlantis. Or why Mitchell isn't. An awkward silence falls, everyone sipping at their drinks except John.

"You find this place okay?" Cadman asks eventually, looking at John.

"No problem," John says. "I got a cab."

"Parking's a nightmare though," Carter puts in, swirling a straw through the last of her drink. "I'm glad Cam drove me."

John's opened his mouth to ask where their fearless leader's gotten to when, as though summoned, Mitchell cuts through the growing crowd and comes to an abrupt halt at the table. "You're here," he says, looking at John, then, "Sorry. I had to step out back, my brother called. Hi."

"Hi," John says, feeling instantly better, and stupid for it. "Is he okay?"

"He's fine, he..." Mitchell sits down between John and Carter. "You met already," he says, gesturing between them.

"Sure," John agrees, though he's not quite sure met is the word for it.

"I don't think he was expecting Colonel Carter," Vala says quietly, sharing her vaguely apologetic look between Carter and John, until John ducks his head.

"Of course he was," Mitchell says, twisting a little to face her. "I called Cadman."

"After I'd left," Cadman protests, rolling her eyes. "I told you he wasn't with me."

"I thought you'd call," Mitchell says.

"You know what?" John says, digging for his wallet and standing up, not looking at anyone. "I'm gonna get a drink, let you hash this out without me."

"Wait," Mitchell says, standing up before John can say anything. "I'll come with you. You guys want anything?"

John turns away, sliding through the crowd while Mitchell's taking orders, and finds a corner of the bar to lean on, a little bit of space. He feels off-balance with the team like he hasn't since the first few days after he met them, like everyone knows something he doesn't and he can't tell if it's something he wants to know or not.

"I said wait," Mitchell says mildly, coming up next to him.

"I said hash it out without me," John counters, not looking at him. He knows who Carter is, now he's thinking about it, ex-SG-1, genius scientist at Area 51, the woman Mitchell talks about with affection. She's not supposed to be here.

"Crossed wires," Mitchell says, shrugging. "I'm sorry you didn't know she'd be here."

"It's fine," John says. He tries to catch the bartender's eye, but she ignores him for a woman at the far end of the bar.

Mitchell makes a dismissive noise. "She flew in late this afternoon, she's going to be at the SGC to consult on something for a few days, came in early to see some friends down here. She called me for a ride."

"Okay," John says, not sure why Mitchell's telling him this. Team night's usually just the four of them, but it's not sacrosanct – Dr Lam joins them sometimes, or Quinn from SG-1, who's turned out to be from another planet as well, and hence sort of close with Vala – and it's never been a big deal to have someone tag along before. Of course, they’ve never been just home from Atlantis before either, and John's not fool enough to imagine they didn't all see how much it rattled him.

Mitchell touches the back of John's hand, and John looks up, into Mitchell's worried eyes. "I'm sorry," Mitchell says again, solemn and sincere. John hates that Mitchell gets this, that he knows John well enough to know that John's thrown by an unexpected person he doesn't know. He hates that it happens as well, but right now, he hates Mitchell knowing more, almost as much as he feels better for Mitchell knowing.

"She's an old friend," Mitchell says. "Just a friend. She got me on the short-list for the 302 program."

Mitchell doesn't lie, John knows, and he doesn't leave stuff out, not when it matters. John knows that's all there is, all there will be, no McKay style recruitment speech, no relationship that John's not going to want to know about. He wishes he was as confident about why Mitchell's telling him, knew whether he was just reading into his own hope. "Okay," he says again. "Thanks."

"No problem," Mitchell says, smiling, and flags the bartender over like he's got mind powers.

Cadman looks at John for a long moment when they get back, armed with people's drinks, then nods, relaxing at whatever she sees there.

The evening goes a lot better after that.

 

Three:

They come through the gate at a run, Vala firing at the huge hairy animals chasing them, Cadman and John dragging Mitchell between them.

"Shut it down!" Cadman shouts up to the control room as the gate blinks out.

They're surrounded by a medical team immediately, unfamiliar hands on John, lifting Mitchell away from them. John grabs for him automatically, and a doctor turns his head, says, "Look at me, are you hurt?"

"I'm fine," he says, pushing the doctor away, trying to see Mitchell through the crowd of people around him. "I'm fine, Mitchell's hurt."

"Dr Lam's taking care of him," the doctor says. "I need to make sure you're all right. You've got blood on you."

John looks down – there's a smear of blood on his green jacket, his bare forearm, and his hands are dark with it. "It's not mine," he says faintly, and that's when he starts shaking.

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The medical staff throws them out of the infirmary once it's clear that they're not hurt, and refuses to say anything about Mitchell other than that he's in surgery. "Take a shower," Dr Redden says. "Get something to eat. We'll call when there's news."

Standing in the shower, John closes his eyes, washing shampoo out of his hair. For a moment, the ground shakes, herd of things like woolly mammoths coming for them, Mitchell tossed into the air by one of them, the thud as he hit the ground...

He opens his eyes, gets soap in them and doesn't care. "He's fine," he says quietly, glad there's no-one there to hear how unconvinced he sounds.

They end up in Mitchell's office, Cadman sitting with her hands neatly in her lap, Vala playing with a glass paperweight. John sits on the floor, leans back against the wall. They should be there; he remembers how it felt to have Mitchell there when he was in the SGC infirmary, coming out of it after his final dose of Ancient machinery.

"Did anyone call his family?" Vala asks.

"Not yet," Cadman says. "Wait until he's out of surgery."

She doesn't say in case it's bad, but Vala says, "Oh," softly, and puts the paperweight down.

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Lam appears in the doorway long after John's lost all track of time, and he's light-headed when he scrambles to his feet. She looks tired, but she smiles. "He's going to be fine," she says. "Some fairly minor internal damage, a nasty concussion, lots of bruising, but I think he got off lightly."

Vala cheers, twisting to hug Cadman, who's laughing, but John can't stop looking at Lam, trying to read secrets in her face, something she knows that she isn't telling them. She holds his gaze, ignoring Cadman and Vala, and says, "Do you want to see him?" like she knows exactly what he's thinking.

"Um," he says, glancing back at Cadman and Vala, who are watching, not sure if they're included.

"Go on," Cadman says. "We'll get dinner, you can report back."

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Mitchell looks terrible – bruised down one side of his face, a chunk of hair shaved back to show off a line of stitches, and whoever cleaned him up hasn't done a great job of it, a smear of dirt clinging to his neck. He turns his head slowly against the pillows when John says his name, and when he sees John fidgeting there, he smiles, warm and affectionate. Like he's pleased to see someone there – like he's pleased that it's John there, the same look he's been giving John for a while now, the one that makes him think, maybe, maybe, but never quite enough to push him the rest of the way.

He's okay. Not dead. Not horribly injured. Okay. John swallows hard. He'd forgotten this part, the relief after the fear. "Hey," he says quietly.

"Mm," Mitchell says. He sounds drowsy, but Lam says it's a combination of the concussion and the anesthetic. "Okay?"

John takes the chair by the bed, shifting until he's back in Mitchell's line of sight. "We're fine. We're all fine. Worried about you."

"M'fine," Mitchell says. "'Cept I feel like I got tossed around by a giant wildebeest."

"Funny, that," John says. He wants to wipe the smudge of dirt off Mitchell's skin, touch the undamaged skin on his hand. He wants to leave.

Mitchell makes a tiny move that might be a shrug. "SGC. It happens."

"I wish it wouldn't happen to you," John says, quiet, looking down, and Mitchell closes his eyes, didn't even hear him. John takes advantage of it, touches his knee through the blankets and says, "Please be more careful," eyes burning, feeling like he's the one who got thrown in the air and broken when he landed.

 

Four:

On their second visit to Atlantis, McKay is off-world, which Woolsey imparts with an odd look, like there's a little more to the story than a mission getting scheduled for this five day period. John's read enough old mission reports to have an idea of all the things that can go wrong off-world, and while Atlantis doesn't feel like it's in the middle of a crisis, that doesn't mean nothing's come up. Not that he isn't happy to just go with it – the thought of another five days fighting off McKay's attempts at friendship, at recruiting him, is exhausting, and something he can't see changing any time soon.

Instead, Mitchell and Vala get swept away by Dr Jackson, who groans when he sees her, and Caldwell sends John and Cadman to the barracks to get out-fitted ready for a city exploration trip with some of the science team.

Cadman leads the way, stepping into a transporter and out on a corridor that looks exactly like the one they just left. "This way," she says confidently, turning right.

"You sure?" John asks.

Cadman rolls her eyes and tugs him along by his sleeve for a few steps. "Yes, I'm sure, Sheppard, I lived here for three years. I'm not you."

John smiles a little, because it's true, his sense of direction sucks on the ground. He doesn't even usually do a good job of navigating by the sun and –

"Who's in charge of this mission?" he asks, forcing that thought away. He still remembers how it felt to realize he had nowhere to go, no idea of what to do next when the one certain thing in his adult life had been pulled away from him. It's about the only thing that makes these trips bearable, that they're what he has to do to have what he wants.

"I don't know, actually," Cadman says, touching the crystal that lets them through the door into the barracks proper, voices and the squeak of a basketball being bounced somewhere.

At the end of the corridor, a door slides open, and a man's voice says, "Tell me what I did to deserve this."

Cadman's face cracks into a huge smile, and she tugs John again, moving them faster towards it. "Please, you probably fought off Caldwell for the privilege."

"Pretty sure that's not what I fought him for." Lorne steps into the open doorway just in time for Cadman to throw her arms around his neck. "Captain," he says, long-suffering, but he's smiling over her shoulder, and hugs her back. "Forgotten about the fraternization rules again, have we?"

"It's a hug, and I don't even work with you, lighten up," Cadman says, letting go and stepping back. "You'd think I was trying to molest you in the middle of the gate room. Sir."

"As long as you're not molesting Woolsey," Lorne says. "Captain Sheppard, good to have you back."

"Yes, sir," John says, as weirded out as he was last time when Lorne shakes his hand. "Colonel Caldwell says we're accompanying a city exploration team."

"My city exploration team," Lorne corrects. "Ancient technology, useful information, or furniture. Though I think pretty much anyone in the city would trade Ancient tech for decent sized beds."

"Beds first, millennia old technology second, got it," Cadman says, still grinning. "What'd McKay say to that?"

"Dr McKay is tragically detained off-world," Lorne says, deeply solemn. "Apparently, the new queen of Larynthia is very keen to have Dr McKay attend the celebrations in honor of her first year in office."

"Larynthia," Cadman repeats, looking like she's doing her best not to laugh. "Isn't that the planet with the child queen who wants to breed with McKay?"

"She considers him an honored ambassador to her world," Lorne corrects, but his eyes are bright when he looks at John, and John gets why he and Cadman are such good friends, why she likes him.

"Well, I think it's tragic that he can't be here to work with Captain Sheppard," Cadman says.

"Tragic," John echoes.

 

Five:

"Welcome back, SG-5," O'Neill's saying as John follows the rest of the team through the gate. He doesn't sound happy.

"Uh-oh," Vala says softly.

"My office please," O'Neill adds.

"Yes, sir," Mitchell says, O'Neill already turning away in the control room.

A couple of marines step up to take away their weapons and vests, and Lam leans on the ramp railing. "You all okay? No broken bones, no bleeding?"

"Fortunately," Mitchell says, laughing a little. "O'Neill sounds like he'd probably just let us bleed to death."

Lam hmms agreement, glares at John until he says, "I'm fine," and then waves them away.

"You think we're in trouble?" Cadman asks as they make their way up to O'Neill's office.

"Well, the base commander just demanded our presence in his office before the wormhole even closed, so I'd say it's a fairly safe bet," Mitchell says. He touches John's arm, drawing him out of the corridor traffic, but when John looks over, he's looking at Cadman.

"Maybe he wants to give us cake," Vala suggests, pressing the call button for the elevator.

"Cake?" Cadman asks.

"As a reward for doing a good job," Vala says, leaning next to John in the elevator.

"He doesn't seem like the cake giving type," John offers.

"Say that again," Mitchell agrees. "Just – tell me the two of you haven't been up to anything I can't explain away."

"I don't know what you mean," Cadman says, walking backwards out of the elevator so she can give Mitchell her best innocent look, and nearly colliding with an airman coming the other way. "Sorry."

"No problem, ma'am," he says, looking mildly confused. John's noticed that their team tends to have that effect on people.

"That's what worries me," Mitchell says, turning her bodily to walk in the right direction. "I heard about your karaoke night with the new scientists."

"That was me, not Laura," Vala says, grinning, Walter waving them through.

"I know," Mitchell says darkly. "We've talked about that."

"But they had fun," Vala says. "It was a bonding experience. You like bonding experiences."

"I like them not to involve people getting drunk and serenading visiting Homeworld officials with 'You're the one that I want'," Mitchell corrects.

Cadman laughs. "At least his visit was memorable," she says.

O'Neill whistles sharply as Vala's about to say something, and they all turn to face him. He's leaning back in his chair, watching them with a raised eyebrow. "I don't want to interrupt."

"No, sir," Mitchell says. "Sorry, sir. We were... Sorry. Sir."

O'Neill just looks at him for a moment, then flips open a file on his desk. "Perhaps, now you're done with that discussion, one of you could explain why I have the Chancellor of M3S 451 in my gate-room this morning, wanting to know what happened to their prized ancient scroll."

"M3..." Mitchell echoes, and John looks firmly at O'Neill, pretty sure the others are doing the same.

"S 451," O'Neill repeats. "Your team was there last week."

"Yes sir," Mitchell says. "Amazing peach wine."

"That's not a contradiction in terms?" O'Neill asks, then waves it away when Mitchell starts to answer. "Their scroll, Colonel."

"We were allowed to see it, sir," Mitchell says, sounding almost serious, almost innocent. "It listed, amongst other things, several planets where Captain Cadman felt that, looking at the details, there might once have been naquadah mines. We asked to make a list, but were refused."

"And?" O'Neill prompts.

"That's all, sir. We asked nicely, they said no, we left the next day."

"And so you wouldn't know why their scroll is now missing."

"It's probably not missing," Vala puts in.

O'Neill turns to her, and Cadman says, "She's right, sir. They seemed very disorganized. Maybe it's just lost."

"Lost," O'Neill repeats. "And would any of you have a suggestion as to where they might search for it?"

"It's a small scroll," Vala says. "Maybe it felt behind a cabinet?"

"I see," O'Neill says. He fixes John with the same glare he's given the rest of them. "You have anything to add, Captain Sheppard?"

"No, sir," John says, holding his gaze as hard as he can.

After a long moment, O'Neill sighs. "Fine. Dismissed, all of you. Don't make any plans – I strongly suspect we'll be sending you back to M3S to look for a missing scroll in the very near future."

"Yes, sir," Mitchell says. "Thank you, sir."

They're filing out of the door when O'Neill says, not looking up from the file, "I'll expect those gate addresses by the end of the day, Colonel."

"Yes, sir," Mitchell says again, sounding choked. They walk down the corridor in silence, and Mitchell looks both ways as they go round the corner, before turning on Vala. "You said you put it back! And that they wouldn’t notice."

"There's no need to shout, Cameron," she says. "I said we didn't need to worry."

"That’s your idea of not needing to worry?" Mitchell demands. "We're lucky the Chancellor's laid back."

"Well, of course he's laid back," Vala says rationally. "We wouldn’t have broken into their sealed case if he seemed the kind of person to come after us with sharp sticks."

"How did you even manage to –" Mitchell starts, then closes his eyes, sighs. "Never mind. I don't want to know."

"Cheer up," Vala says, patting his arm. "At least we didn't get thrown in jail."

"This time, anyway," Cadman says under her breath. Mitchell looks over to glare at her, but she just looks back at him with an innocent smile, and Mitchell laughs.

John has to look away – Mitchell doesn't laugh much, none of them do, but his face lights up when he does, and John just knows everything is showing on his own face.

"You lot will be the death of me," Mitchell says.

"At least you won't be lonely," Cadman says.

 

Six:

They're not supposed to be a first contact team, don't ever get sent to planets that haven't already been cleared by another team, so when they step out of a ruin that's home to a bunch of Ancient equipment, purpose currently unknown, and find twelve people pointing guns at them, it's a little more of a surprise than anyone's comfortable with.

"Well, so much for SG-3's intel," Mitchell mutters, stepping forward. "Hi, I'm Colonel Cameron Mitchell, how you doing?"

One of the women in the group steps forward, her gun still aimed. John sort of assumed people living on other planets would have cooler, more science fictiony guns, but they don't look that different from Earth weapons. Neither do the people's clothes, brown skirts, brown pants, green shirts. "You have no right to pass here."

Cadman groans softly, her hands tightening on her P-90.

"We didn't think anyone lived here," Mitchell says. "But clearly you do, so why don't we get to know each other? This is my team, Captain –"

"You trespass on our most sacred sites, and think that we can speak as equals?" the woman asks, disdain dripping from her every word. "Surely you must come from a very backward world indeed."

"You should think about putting up a sign," Vala offers brightly, and the woman turns her glare on Vala for a moment.

"We're sorry about that," Mitchell says, drawing her attention back. John slides his hands along his P-90, bracing for whatever comes next. "It was an honest mistake on our part, we meant no offence. But you seem like reasonable people, I'm sure we can get past this."

"You are offering reparations for your trespass?" she asks.

Cadman shakes her head hard enough to catch Mitchell's attention, and he frowns. "What sort of reparations are we talking about?"

"One of your party remains with us, to be sacrificed at the next full moon, to appease our god. The rest of you leave immediately, with promises never to return. It is a demonstration of your true penance in the face of your crime, for which our god will be merciful."

"Yeah, we're gonna need an option B," Mitchell says.

"If you can show no penance, then our god will demand all of your deaths."

Cadman raises her P-90, aiming straight for the woman. Three of her party swing round to aim straight at her in response, and Mitchell raises his now empty hands. "Whoa, hey, lets not get hasty here. I'm sure we can come to some kind of arrangement."

"I like the arrangement where we shoot a couple of these people until they realize we're serious, make for the gate and don't come back," Cadman says darkly.

"And I like the arrangement where no-one gets shot," Mitchell says firmly. "Lower your weapon, Captain. All of you."

John complies along with Vala and Cadman, not even sure when he raised his.

"Okay," Mitchell says. "Look, I think you can see that we're –"

He's cut off by the sharp retort of a single shot, Cadman crying out. She hits the ground hard, blood already blossoming on her shirt, she left her jacket on the gate platform, complaining about the heat, and John feels sand on his face as he goes to his knees next to her, smells burning fuel, Jessica's face, Jessica bleeding -. He shakes it off hard, catches Cadman's hand before she can touch the wound. On her other side, Vala's fumbling in her vest for a field dressing, and somewhere above them, Mitchell's shouting, arguing, far away.

"You're okay," John says.

Cadman's gone pale, but she offers a shaky smile. "You're not – the one who just got shot."

"Talk to me when you get blown up," John offers, ripping her vest away. Vala presses a dressing into his hand, then another when that soaks straight through. The bullet hole in her shoulder is obscenely huge, bleeding hard. "You're gonna be fine."

Mitchell's voice has gone sharp and angry, but the woman's is still calm, and Cadman's getting paler as they watch, losing blood.

"Mitchell," Vala says, standing up to touch his elbow, backing him up.

Cadman moans, reaches for John and catches his jacket sleeve. "Ow," she says softly.

John laughs a little, bites his lip to make himself stop. "You're fine," he says. "Mosquito bite."

"Big mosquito bite," Cadman says. "Lorne's gonna kill you."

"You can defend us from him," John promises. He pulls another dressing from his own vest.

"You can't just leave her here to bleed to death," Mitchell shouts suddenly, pulling John's attention away from Cadman.

"You leave us no choice," the woman says patiently. "We offered you passage to your world with your injured friend, but the sacrifice must be honored."

"I won't trade my people for each other," Mitchell says. "There has to be another way to do this."

John's on his feet before he thinks about it, except he must have thought about it, because Cadman's hand is pressed to her shoulder, and he must have done that. "I'll stay," he says.

"Shut up," Mitchell says viciously, turning on him. "No-one's staying."

"The next full moon isn't due for two days," John says reasonably. "Get Cadman home." There's not much chance that the gathered party won't understand what he isn't saying, but he's not ready to risk putting anything more into words.

"No," Mitchell says again. "I'm not trading one of you for the other."

"She's graduating in a couple of weeks," John says. "She's going to bleed to death lying there." He looks at the woman, who's watching them intently, her face unreadable. "I –"

"Do not finish that sentence," Mitchell says. "That's an order, Captain."

John freezes, stung, and Cadman moans. "Cameron," Vala says, from where she's gone back to tending to Cadman.

"I'll stay," John says. "Let them go and I'll stay."

"So be it," the woman says at the same time as Mitchell says, "No way. No," both of them stepping towards him, and that's when the ruin behind them rumbles and three bright lights burst out, heading straight for them, just like the carved image above an Ancient machine that Cadman couldn’t get working when they were in the ruins earlier.

The woman and her party cry out, throwing themselves to the ground, but Mitchell and Vala are already pulling Cadman to her feet, dragging her towards the gate, and John goes, covering their backs.

hr

Dr Lam has Cadman on a gurney and on the way to the infirmary almost before the gate's shut down. Vala looks between Mitchell and John, then says, "I'll go and talk to General O'Neill."

Mitchell nods, so tense John can see it vibrating through him. "My office," he says, not even looking at John, his voice as tense as his body. "Right now."

John stands at parade rest in front of Mitchell's desk as Mitchell closes the door with a calm that has to be forced, walks round John to lean against the desk. "What the hell was that?" he asks, clipped, not looking at John.

"Captain Cadman needed medical attention," John says. "That was the best way to get it for her."

"By leaving you behind to be sacrificed?" Mitchell asks.

"It wouldn't have come to that," John says.

Mitchell pushes himself away from the desk, stalks away and back. "What if they'd taken you off-world? Or figured out you had the Ancient gene? Those lights, whatever they were, they came from the ruins, the Ancient equipment in there, that must have been you. What if we hadn't made it back in time?"

John opens his mouth, but nothing comes out.

"They'd have killed you," Mitchell says, voice rising, angry like he was back on the planet with Cadman bleeding at his feet. "You think that's what Cadman wanted?"

"I think she didn't want to die there, knowing that we'd probably all be next," John says.

"You don't get to make that decision," Mitchell yells. "You don't get to choose who lives and who dies on this team, and you don't get to decide to sacrifice yourself. That's not why you're here, it's not why any of us are here."

"Yes, sir," John says, and all the anger goes out of Mitchell. He drops back to lean on the edge of his desk, brings one hand up to rub at his forehead with a sigh.

When he looks at John, he just looks tired, and kind of sad, like how he looked at John after the Wraith, when he thought it was his fault John nearly died, and it makes John's stomach clench painfully. "You belong to us now," Mitchell says softly. "You're part of my team, because you have the ATA gene, and you're an officer in the Air Force, and because we wanted you. Because you're smart. Not because we needed someone to throw themselves on the first available grenade. You're not disposable. We care about you – I..." He looks down, looks back up, too much splashed over his face for John to read it all. "Okay?"

"Okay," John says. His voice comes out small, and he wants to be anywhere else but here, having this conversation, trying to say what Mitchell wants him to. Trying to figure out what Mitchell's trying to say.

Mitchell drops his head in an unmistakable gesture of defeat, like John's killed all of Mitchell's hope in him. "Jesus, Sheppard," he says, quiet and wrecked. "What the hell am I going to do with you?"

"I don't know," John says, unable to do anything but tell the truth.

 

Seven:

The third time John straightens his jacket in as many minutes, Mitchell actually slaps his hand away, though he does look sort of ashamed when John looks at him.

"Sorry. Just – you're making me nervous."

John doesn't really have anything to say to that – he feels like he's going to jitter out of his own skin, he can think of worse things than Mitchell being nervous with him – so he just looks at the crowd again. Even outside, this is more people in one small space than he's been around in a while – since before the SGC took him in – and he feels like they're all looking at him and Mitchell, like they've got military stamped on their foreheads or something, even out of uniform, something he's truly grateful for. He hasn't worn his Class A's since before he got thrown out, and just the thought of having to made his throat tight, which he's sure Mitchell noticed, from the insistent way he kept telling John that Cadman didn’t any of them go in uniform.

Or maybe the crowd is just wondering what two men in their forties are doing together at a graduation ceremony – maybe they think he and Mitchell have a child graduating.

The thought makes him laugh, oddly nervous, and Mitchell turns back to him again, smiling a little. The laugh catches in John's throat, Mitchell's amusement and soft, faintly worried eyes, more than enough to make John wish that Vala hadn't gone with Cadman to pick up her gown. The two of them are probably lost – Cadman's only been to the University of Chicago campus a handful of times, despite being about to be awarded a PhD by them, having done her lab work on Atlantis and most of her meetings with her supervisor via video conference and email, citing her posting to get permission.

"Want to share?" Mitchell asks.

John shakes his head. "Just wondering what they think of us."

Mitchell laughs. "We're fine till Vala comes back. Then you can worry."

He's probably got a point, even if Vala turned up at breakfast in shockingly Earth normal clothes, black pants and a dark red blouse. She was even carrying a black cardigan over one arm. Somehow, the whole thing made her look more alien, not less.

John reaches up to tug at his jacket again, stopping with his hand half-raised when Mitchell glares at him. "It's been a while since I wore this," John protests weakly.

Mitchell sighs. "Come here." When John turns a little more to face him, he steps right into John's personal space, making John's breath catch all over again, and adjusts John's tie, then the line of his collar and the set of his jacket. "There," he says firmly, not quite meeting John's eyes. John can't tell if the faint flush on his cheeks is proximity or the sun. "You look fine. You looked fine before."

This close, John can see every detail of Mitchell's face, blue eyes and neatly combed hair, and John's heart trips over itself, as though they don't already have the weirdest CO/subordinate relationship of any John's ever been part of.

Mitchell touches John's tie once more, his fingers lingering warm at the base of John's throat for a moment too long, then steps back. John doesn't even mean to do it, his hand just goes automatically up to straighten his jacket again, and Mitchell laughs, warm and amused, his eyes crinkling with it.

John makes a production of putting his hands in his pockets, watching Mitchell laugh, soaking up the affection in his voice when he says, "You're hopeless." He thinks he could stand here all afternoon, even with all the people, even with the prospect of meeting Cadman's parents at some point, on their way back from the train station with her younger sister.

"Wow, you actually stayed here," Vala says, pushing through the crowd, Cadman in tow in her gown and cap. "I was sure you'd have fled as soon as our backs were turned."

"Would we do that?" Mitchell asks.

"Probably," Cadman says cheerfully. "Mandy called, they're parking the car."

"Great," Mitchell says, sounding pretty genuine. He's probably good with people's parents. Hopefully that'll get over whatever stupid thing John says, or, more likely, how he doesn't say anything.

"You don't get to say anything," Cadman says, apparently picking up more sarcasm than John thought was in the comment. She's been more tense than usual all day, though John can understand how this is what makes her nervous, despite spending her working days travelling to other planets. "You're not the one graduating in a sling."

"Well, not just a sling," Vala points out, then smiles when Cadman glares at her.

"You try explaining how you got shot doing deep space telemetry research," Cadman grumbles. "My parents probably think it was one of you."

"What did you tell them?" Mitchell asks, horrified.

"Accident in training," Cadman says, shrugging her good shoulder.

"Wonderful," Mitchell grumbles, but John can't quite keep the smile of his own face – it's kind of reassuring to know that he won't be the only person feeling awkward during this.

 

Eight:

"Sheppard, your team sucks," Mitchell says as the field clears and the TV cuts away to a commercial for toothpaste. He stretches, arching over the back of the couch, and John looks away.

"How is Northern Colorado my team?" he asks, since it's not like Mitchell doesn't have a point – Kansas has pretty much wiped the floor with them so far.

"The Jayhawks are my team in this game," Mitchell says. "That makes the other team yours for the purposes of this conversation."

Mitchell grabs the empty popcorn bowl and heads for the kitchen, and John trails after him. "You wouldn't be saying that if they were losing."

"No, I would," Mitchell assures him over his shoulder, tossing the unpopped kernels and putting another bag in the microwave. In the other room, the announcers are talking about something John can't catch over the roar of the crowd in the background. "My dad adopted them when he and mom settled down near there, he'd know if I didn't cheer for them."

"Oh," John says, stupid and quiet – he knows Mitchell went to the Air Force Academy, supports them a little more actively, but when he offered to put that game on, Mitchell just shrugged it off. Protecting John again, even if John's not totally sure what from this time.

He feels Mitchell looking at him, half-expects a question – Mitchell's read his entire file, after all, and his dad was his 'in case of emergency' for a while, after Nancy and before his and his dad's last falling out – but Mitchell just says, "You want another drink?"

"Sure," John says, relinquishing his empty Coke can. It's weird to be drinking Coke with the game, but he hasn't had a drink since the Wraith, and it's gotten to be sort of a thing. It's not like he's actively not drinking, he just... doesn't. Mitchell just shrugs and buys six packs of Coke along with six packs of beer and the lurid colored wine coolers that Vala likes for team nights.

"You were at Stanford, right?" Mitchell asks, leaning back against the counter as the popcorn starts popping. "They're all right these days."

"I guess," John says, turning the unopened can in his hands. "I didn't –" watch much football last season, because I was busy sleeping with wildly inappropriate people, losing at poker with people who were even worse, and not quite getting killed. He can feel Mitchell's eyes on him again, but he can't look up. He's pretty sure this is the kind of stuff Mitchell meant when he said 'what the hell am I going to do with you?' but even though it's proof that Mitchell's doing something right, John can't bear to say it. He hates that Mitchell knows this about him.

"Hey," Mitchell says softly. He hasn't moved, but he feels much closer. John shakes his head a little, knowing what Mitchell wants. "All right," Mitchell says, still soft. He pushes away from the counter and rescues the popcorn. "But I warn you, last year I was on the Daedalus for the final two weeks of the season, and the year before that I was off-world on training maneuvers, so the chances that we'll catch the end of this one aren't great."

John watches him shake errant popcorn into the bowl until he doesn't feel like he's going to choke if he tries to say anything. "That's what VCRs are for," he says finally.

"SGC airmen are ruthless," Mitchell says. "One of them signed off with the scores for three games when I was on the Daedalus."

"That's just cruel," John says.

"That's what I'm saying," Mitchell says, grinning, and it's so normal, halfway to domestic without Vala and Cadman there like they usually would be, that John can't help smiling back, meeting Mitchell's amused, bright eyes.

He knows immediately that he shouldn't have done that, Mitchell's grin freezing into something uncertain. "Sheppard?" he says.

John can't look away, even though he knows he should. This is such a bad idea – this whole evening was, but Mitchell asked and he couldn't say no. Didn't want to. Still doesn't. "I –" he starts, but there's nothing to come after that. He wants to say, I want to kiss you, wants to say, I want you to be my best friend, just like this, and whichever one he chooses will be the wrong one.

"This is a bad idea," Mitchell says, because he's the brave one, even barefoot in his kitchen with his hands full of popcorn. "You're not – this is a bad idea."

John doesn't want to know what he didn't say. "Right," he says. It comes out hollow, defeated. It's better than being told no, I don't want you. Maybe.

"John," Mitchell says, taking a step towards him.

John steps back automatically. "Second half's almost started," he says, though it clearly hasn't. "Don't want to miss my team kicking your ass."

"Did we step through a quantum mirror that I didn't notice?" Mitchell asks, following him back to the couch. It sounds almost normal, but something's still cracked, and when John says, over the sound of the crowd's ecstatic, 49-3 win cheering, "I should call a cab," Mitchell doesn't argue.

 

Nine:

A couple of months after John officially joined SG-5, one night when he couldn't sleep and couldn't lie in bed a minute longer staring at the ceiling and wishing he wasn't awake, he went exploring and found what could only be described as a TV lounge, at the very bottom of the mountain, complete with old, soft couches, an odd collection of DVDs, and scribbled over journals scattered about the place. He wasn't going to stay, not sure if he anyone was allowed in there – not sure if he was – but then he spotted Blade Runner amongst the discarded DVDs, and okay, it's a weird choice for his favorite comfort movie, but there it is, and he ended up falling asleep in front of Harrison Ford tracking replicants across a dark city.

He's been back a few times, never seen anyone else there, though the journals change, which suggests he's not the only person who knows it exists. He still doesn't tell anyone; it's kind of nice to have a good secret for a change.

So it's a surprise when, at three thirty on Wednesday morning, the door slides open, knocking John out of the half-doze he's fallen into over a newish edition of the Journal of Differential Geometry.

It probably shouldn't be a surprise that his intruder is Mitchell, but it is. Though of course, Mitchell, standing just inside the door, like he's not sure if he's welcome or not, sure as hell doesn't look surprised to find John there. They haven't exactly been avoiding each other since Northern Colorado got their asses handed to them, but there's been a weird vibe that John knows Cadman and Vala have picked up on.

"Can I come in?" Mitchell asks.

John shrugs, feeling out of place, curled up on an old blue couch in front of his team leader. At least Mitchell's not in uniform. "Pretty sure this is a community room."

"It is," Mitchell says, taking the arm chair next to John's couch and angling it so they're mostly facing each other.

When he doesn't say anything else, John says, "I thought you went home."

"O'Neill sent me a list of reports to check before the IOA inspection next week. It didn't seem worth it to go home when I got done."

"I can go if you want to watch something," John offers. He's in no way prepared to be around Mitchell while he sleeps, knowing exactly how much he wants to touch Mitchell when he's like that, soft and vulnerable.

"I was looking for you, actually," Mitchell says, looking down at his hands then back up to John and great, this is the conversation they didn't have. John hates those, but somehow he doubts Mitchell will let them skip it, like Matt Dawson when they were bright, shiny new lieutenants, or end it in bed like Sean Tyler, right before John shipped out to Afghanistan.

Mitchell's still watching him, obviously waiting for something, so John obligingly says, "Here I am."

"Yeah." Mitchell smiles a little, awkwardly. "I thought we should – about Saturday." Oddly, the gap, the stutter, makes John feel better about this. At least he's not the only one hating it, and he can probably handle a conversation that skips over all the important verbs. "It's not a good idea."

"You said that," John says.

"I'm your team leader, and we're in the Air Force. I mean, they pretty much threw the fraternization rules out the window with the teams here, but."

John doesn't bother pointing out that he can be discreet – he figures that's obvious, since there's nothing in his file. "I understand," he says. "It's fine."

It's true, mostly – it's not exactly what he wants, but it's so much more than he would have expected a year ago that he can't really feel bitter about it, especially when Mitchell grins at him, relaxes, like he was dreading this as much as John was. Plus, it turns out, they can mostly skip it after all.

"What are you reading?" Mitchell asks, leaning forward too quickly for John to avoid him grabbing the journal, open to the middle of an article. "'Flat surfaces with singularities in Euclidean 3-space'," Mitchell reads, looking at John a little oddly. "Hoping for an insomnia cure?"

John opens his mouth to laugh it off, but Mitchell's eyes flick back to the page, then up to John's, his expression gone even more odd. Surprise, maybe, but not quite. John can't read him. "You wrote these notes," Mitchell says, his very tip of his finger touching John's words, his symbols and numbers. "You – you follow this?"

John wants to make a joke, wants to snatch the journal out of Mitchell's hand before he can see anything else that John doesn't want him to. Instead, he says, "Mostly."

"Mostly," Mitchell echoes softly. "You got partway through your PhD."

Of course Mitchell knows this. Mitchell's read John's whole damn file, knows far more about him than John wants. Not his favorite chewing gum flavor though. Not the way McKay did, prickly and hard and what could he use as a weapon. Mitchell's knowing is careful, learned from John in this universe and nowhere else. "Yeah," he says.

"And now you're reading journal articles that I don't even understand the title of," Mitchell adds. He traces John's writing again, then hands the journal back. "You ever think about finishing studying?"

"It's been years," John says. "Everything's moved on – I doubt anyone would even care about my old topic."

"You could pick a new one," Mitchell says, still light. John would believe it, if Mitchell hadn't touched John's notes like they were breakable, the way Cadman touches the Ancient tech that she finds most exciting, like it's amazing. "Make all the other team leaders jealous."

"What?" John asks.

Mitchell grins. "Two brilliant officers on my team. Most of them are lucky to get one scientist on permanent rotation with them, I'd have two. Richards will probably try to steal one of you."

Richard is the leader of SG-1, the SGC's favorite, best team, but Mitchell doesn't look like he's teasing, or trying to mess with John. Mitchell doesn't do that, anyway. "I don't know," he says.

"Talk to O'Neill," Mitchell says, standing up. "The SGC paid for Cadman. Mainly so they can trot her out to talk to anyone who needs to be impressed, but, you know."

"Sure," John says. It comes out scratchy, and his fingers ache from being curled so tight around the pages of the journal, and he feels like he's waiting for the other shoe to drop. But.

"I'm going to bed," Mitchell says, heading for the door. "Get some sleep."

"Sure," John says again. It takes him a minute to realize he hasn't heard the door, and when he looks up, Mitchell's watching him again, solemn and intent.

"I don't want you to get hurt," he says, his voice low, already turning towards the door. "That’s – I don't want to hurt you."

And he's gone before John can come up with anything to say in response to that.

 

Ten:

Cadman hosts the next team night, makes them sit through a documentary about Riverdance, and, when John makes a face, says, "You only get to complain if you're someone who lives in a place with its own kitchen."

"Now that's a rule I can get behind," Mitchell says, grinning, even when John mutters, "Traitor," at him.

Vala gives Cadman pitiful looks as they wind their way to saying goodnight, and Cadman laughs and offers her the spare room, so it's just John in Mitchell's car, pulling out onto the mostly empty road that'll take him past Cheyenne Mountain for John, then on to his apartment. Mitchell turns the radio on low, the Eagles singing about someone going to emergency, someone going to jail, and John leans against the window, feels mellow drunk on familiarity and comfort, watching Mitchell's hands loose on the steering wheel, the wash of streetlights across his face.

"You're wrong," he says, a little surprised to hear the words out loud, when they've been stacked up in the back of his mouth since Wednesday morning.

"It's not natural to be able to bend your legs like that," Mitchell says, same things he's been saying about the dancers all evening.

"Not about that," John says. "Before – what you said in the lounge. About us."

Mitchell glances across at him, then back to the road. "I don't want to hurt you," he says quietly. "I don't want anyone to."

John has to look away then, absurdly warmed by Mitchell's words, and, even more absurdly, feeling his eyes burn. He still can't figure out how he got lucky enough to wind up with Mitchell, with Cadman and Vala, these people he can care about without it hurting, without waiting for disaster to strike.

"You won't hurt me," he says, when he thinks it will come out steady. "And even if you did somehow, I'm not – I won't break."

"I know that," Mitchell says, a little too defensive to be entirely true. John figures he's entitled; God knows John hasn't exactly been a framed picture of mental health in the last few years, or even the last few months.

"I like you," John says, simple and high school, but it's what he's got. "I think that's pretty clear. I think you like me too. I think, you know, that it'd be pretty good."

"Pretty good," Mitchell echoes, a little amused now. When the next street-light passes over his face, the edges of his eyes are crinkled with smile lines.

"Definitely," John says firmly. He knows it won't be easy, having to keep it secret, but John's kept worse secrets before, for far less than he knows this will be. And he wants it, not the fierce want to be part of something good that he felt for the SGC when he thought they might not keep him, but something softer, easier. "You took a chance on me before."

"You weren't a chance," Mitchell says, sharp. "John, you weren't a risk. I knew you'd be good with us."

John's glad it's too dark for Mitchell to see the flush he can feel rising. "And I know this would be good," he says.

There's a long silence, nothing but the rasp of rubber on tarmac, taking John closer to the SGC. He thinks, if they get back before Mitchell decides, that'll be it.

The radio's moved onto something John doesn't recognize, slow and melancholy, when Mitchell says, "Do you want to maybe come back to my place? I don't know that this conversation is the best for the SGC."

"You don't want to get O'Neill's input?" John asks, relieved, even more so when Mitchell laughs.

"God, no," he says, and the turning for the SGC passes by ignored.

hr

John knows Mitchell really did ask him back to talk more, not to sleep together, but John also knows that it's been the better part of a year since they met, and that Mitchell standing in his sock feet in the kitchen, fiddling with the coffee machine in just the ambient light from the hall, is a little too much for John's fairly limited powers of resistance.

Mitchell doesn't startle at all when John gets close, rests one hand in the small of his back, just looks over to smile at John. John smiles back, and when Mitchell turns into him a little, it's so, so easy to get a little closer, tip his head and kiss him.

It's a weird kiss – Mitchell too obviously letting John lead, John trying to kiss I won't break if you touch me into him – but it's still good, easy and slow to go with the dark and the late hour. When they break apart, Mitchell laughs a little, hugs John close, and John presses his smile against Mitchell's neck, light and happy.

"Yeah, okay," Mitchell says. He rubs his thumb under John's t-shirt, and John shivers a little. It's been way too long since anyone touched him like this. He slides his hand up to cup the back of Mitchell's neck, turns him enough so they can kiss again, and it's better, less reassurance and more I like you, I want you, yeah, like that, and it just gets better.

So much better that John loses all track of time and place, right up until he's got his back to the counter, his t-shirt on the floor somewhere, Mitchell's shirt open, John's hands on Mitchell's belt, and Mitchell leans back a little and says, "We're not fucking in my kitchen."

John blinks, which he thinks is forgivable, since they're half-naked and hard against each other, and his skin is buzzing with Mitchell's hands on him, Mitchell's kisses. "What?"

Mitchell smiles, ducks in to kiss him again. "We're not having sex in my kitchen. I cook in here."

John shifts against him a little, just to get Mitchell to make that sweet gasping sound he makes. "We're having sex somewhere though, right?"

"I've got a bedroom," Mitchell suggests.

"Works for me," John says.

They just grin at each other for a minute, the coffee machine hissing as it finishes, then Mitchell circles John's wrist loosely and says, "Want to go to bed?"

John half-expects it to be awkward, but they brush their teeth together (of course Mitchell's the kind of person to keep spare toothbrushes. John's seen the box of Tampax under his sink already) in companionable quiet, grinning dorkily every time their eyes meet in the mirror. He hesitates a little in Mitchell's bedroom, but Mitchell strips like he's in the locker room, like it's not big deal, and so John follows his lead.

"I thought it was just old married couples who had sex under the covers with the lights off," he says lightly, sitting on the edge of the bed.

Mitchell strokes one hand down the line of John's spine, and says, "I think we've both got enough scars to make an exception." He snakes his arm round John's waist, tugging lightly. "Come here."

The last time John had sex, it was with the prosecutor on a string of fairly minor thefts that John managed to close, after the case ended with the thief being sentenced to five years, John halfway to drunk and bent over the guy's desk, and now John can't remember his name.

This is nothing like that. Instead, it's slow and smooth and easy, Mitchell over him and in him, wrapped up in each other, kissing and touching, and John can't stop smiling, feeling Mitchell's smile against his skin. It feels like they've done this a dozen times together already, like they know each other like this as well as they know each other outside of the bedroom.

John jerks himself off slowly, in time with Mitchell's cock moving in him, and Mitchell's smile is so fucking sweet, even in the dark. "So pretty," he says softly.

Mitchell laughs. "Pretty, right," he says. "Loon."

"S'true," John says, but Mitchell chooses that moment to lean in and kiss him again, pressing deeper, better angle, and John lets go, comes with a sigh that's as much relief as pleasure.

"Now who's pretty?" Mitchell asks, grinning. He's holding himself still over John, his arms shaking faintly with the effort of not moving, still hard inside John.

"Keep going," John says, touching his face with the hand that's not sticky with his own come, then pulling Mitchell back down, skin against skin. "Come on."

Mitchell looks uncertain for a moment. John holds his gaze, tightens a little around him, and Mitchell's eyes go a little hazy as he starts moving again. John expects him to speed up, fuck him harder, but he just keeps going, the same steady, deep rhythm as before. John's not going to come again, so he can just enjoy it, feel Mitchell's muscles shift under his hands, hold Mitchell against him to keep kissing, until Mitchell presses his face to John's shoulder, moans and comes.

Later, a little more dressed, they lie next to each other in the dark, pressed together, and John says, "This is a good idea," and Mitchell laughs up to the ceiling and says, "Yeah, maybe."

 

Eleven:

The third time John stays over at Cam's, he can’t sleep, even relaxed and loose, even with Cam snoring softly next to him. He tries for much longer than he usually would, but it's not happening.

He snags his jeans from the floor, and his sweatshirt from the door handle, and slips out of the room, closing the door carefully behind himself. The coffee pot's still half-full and hot, so John takes a mug back to Cam's leather armchair, John's preferred seat during movie night.

His cell phone's still sitting on the coffee table, from when it was digging into his hip earlier, and he picks it up, checks for messages, then pulls up the contacts list.

Cam's phone had rung while they were watching Blade Runner – John's trying to convert Cam, without much success – and he'd grabbed for it, smiled when he heard the voice on the other end and said, "Hey, Court. Yeah, hold on, let me..." already heading out of the room.

He was back in less than ten minutes, which was probably a record for Cam and his younger brother, and now John's staring at his own brother's number in his phone, wondering if it's even still current.

He knows Dave will still be up – they're a family of night owls, for all that John's trained himself into the military's idea of a standard day. What he doesn't know is how Dave will react to hearing his voice. Probably not the way Cam does to his brother's, since the last contact they had was Dave's angry voice on John's answer machine, demanding to know why he didn't show up for Dad's funeral. John's pretty sure he never returned the call.

He's not sure how this one would go, if Dave doesn't hang up on him straight away. He's got some of the words already – I'm sorry, and, I didn't know what I was doing, I didn't want to come back. I didn't want to get hurt, and he thinks he should tell Cam that one, how good John is at hurting people, how good some of them are in return, and Cam will never get close to either one.

I want to try being your brother again.

He knows it's the 'try' that will bother Dave, who thinks the only thing worth doing is something that you can do, not try to do, but he also knows that they've been crap at being each other's family for a long time.

But John's back in the Air Force, who he thought would never want him back, doing something that matters, that he's good at, with people he cares for and who care for him, so maybe all hope's not lost.

He presses the call button before he can change his mind again, listens to the phone ring on the other end. Maybe Dave's having an early night, with his wife. Maybe they've gone out. Maybe –

The line clicks as it connects, and Dave says, "Hello?"

"Dave," John says. He has to clear his throat against how thick his voice sounds. "It's me."

 

Twelve:

"I thought I'd find you up here," Cam says, and John turns a little from where he's leaning on the safety rail to watch Cam walk across the roof to stand next to him. "Pretty nice view."

The apartment building – John's apartment building – is the highest thing in the near vicinity, looking out over the lights of Colorado Springs at a little after eleven at night. It's not the sunset over a white beach or anything, but John likes it, and only a little bit because if he leans right, he can see Cam's building from up there. "Yeah," he says, shifting a little to feel Cam's arm against his, the most they can risk with what feels like half of the SGC down in John's brand new apartment. Even Carter, back to consult at the SGC again for a few days, came.

"You don't think it defeats the point of a house-warming for you to be up here instead?" Cam asks.

John shrugs. "They're warming my apartment, not me." It's not really a party, just an excuse for people to relax for one night. John feels a lot more relaxed now that he's not with them.

"It's a nice place," Cam says, sounding a little uncertain.

"Yeah," John agrees, then answers the question he suspects Cam is really asking: "It was a good idea to get my own place."

When he looks over, Cam's looking back, secret and almost gleeful, and it makes John laugh. "You're staying tonight, right?"

"Someone's got to help clean up in the morning," Cam agrees.

The door to the roof squeaks open again to punctuate his comment, and Cadman says, "See? They're fine."

"I never said they wouldn't be fine," Vala says, coming closer. "Just that they might be up to mischief." She touches John's shoulder, hands over an unopened Coke bottle when he turns, then Cam's beer. Cadman leans on the railing on Cam's other side, beer bottle dangling between two fingers.

"It's a mischief free zone up here," Cam says lightly. He doesn't move away from John – they haven't said anything to Vala and Cadman, not wanting to ask them to keep a secret, but they're both pretty observant, and John would be surprised if they haven't figured it out.

"It's also free of Dr Smith," Cadman says. "I think he's trying to bore me into sleeping with him."

"That's a novel approach," Cam says.

"That's one word for it," Cadman agrees, making a face. "What the hell do I care about the ecological standing of moss bears?"

"They can be dead for years without any water and come back to life when they get rehydrated," John says, which makes the other three look at him oddly.

"How do you even know that?" Cam asks.

"He's a closet geek," Vala says, tucking her arm through John's and squeezing a little.

"I don't think you can be a closet geek when you're dropping random facts about moss bears into the conversation," Cadman says firmly. "I'm pretty sure that just makes you an open geek."

"At least I'm not using it as a pick-up line," John points out.

"Okay, you're less of a geek than Dr Smith," Cadman concedes. "But that's not saying much."

"You're a cruel woman," Vala says, leaning forward a little to talk to her round Cam and John. "He has better taste in aftershave than Dr Smith, for starters."

"True. And better hair."

"He's standing right here," John says mildly, but Vala just squeezes his arm again and says, "And he did help save your life when you got shot," ignoring him.

"Just let them get it out of their system," Cam advises, eyes bright with amusement.

John smiles, drinks his Coke and lets their voices flow over him, soaking up how good this feels.

There's a part of him that can't help imagining them staying like this forever, going through the gate together, and hanging out together, him and Mitchell and their mostly secret affair. There's another part that can see things changing: Cadman taking one of the offers she gets occasionally to go be a professor somewhere, Vala getting tired of being tied to Earth and skipping through the gate, Cam getting promoted, high-powered desk job in Washington. And maybe they'll always be friends, or maybe in ten years time they'll have separated and drifted apart.

John wants them to stick together, wants to think that they'll always be like this, but the thing is, he thinks that, even if they do drift apart, it won't be the end of the world. It won't even be the end of his world. When he thinks about being at the SGC without them, it doesn't hurt like it would have a year ago. He doesn't want it, but he knows it'd be okay.

"Hey," Cam says quietly, nudging John's arm. Cadman and Vala have apparently finished debating his and Dr Smith's relative merits, and are watching the skyline in comfortable silence. "You okay?"

"Yeah," John says, leaning a little into Cam's warmth. "Yeah, I'm good."

 

Bonus scene:

"Hey," Laura says, leaning in the door of the team's office, where Vala's sitting at her laptop, consulting an open file. "Where's everyone else?"

"General O'Neill wanted to talk to Cameron," Vala says. "And John went to see Dr Lam."

"He okay?" Laura asks. They've been on Earth all week, but this is the SGC, that doesn't mean anything.

Vala nods. "He said Dr Lam would use the big needle on him if he tried to skip out on one of her check-ups."

Laura shudders. She upset Lam once, and lived to regret it. "Are either of them coming back here?"

"Nope," Vala says. "Cameron said he'd take John home to watch football."

"I like football," Laura says, not really offended. It's still pretty rare for the two of them to do something without the rest of the team – rare for John to do anything with just one of them.

"All those men in tight shorts, what's not to like?" Vala says, shrugging. "Do you want to gate-crash?"

"Not really," Laura admits. "Turn your computer off, come on, let's go out."

"You don't have reports to finish or something?" Vala asks suspiciously.

Laura shakes her head so hard her hair sways with it. "As it turns out, it's much easier to get all my work done on time when I'm not trying to write a thesis as well."

"Oh well, in that case," Vala says cheerfully, shutting down her computer. "Where are we going?"

"Anywhere," Laura says expansively. She's been out of a sling for a while, but they haven't been out since before she was shot. "A bar, a restaurant, the theater, the zoo –"

"At eleven o'clock at night?"

"Okay, maybe not the zoo."

They agree, riding the elevator to the surface, on a bar, one where they can play pool, but they pass a club on the drive over and Vala says, "Ooh, stop here."

"Really?" Laura asks doubtfully. The bouncer looks like a moonlighting marine, and the line of people have to be five years younger than either of them, maybe more. Also, since they're both of them in jeans and t-shirts, they're wearing vastly more clothes than anyone out there.

"Yes," Vala says firmly. "We can dance."

"That's a plus?" Laura asks, grinning when Vala glares, and pulls into the parking lot.

To her complete lack of surprise, Vala charms the bouncer into letting them in without waiting in line, and once they get inside, it's not as bad as Laura feared, despite the bass so loud she can feel it in her feet and the horrendous price of the drinks that she has to pay for, since Vala doesn't seem to believe in carrying a wallet.

Vala downs her glass of bright pink something in three gulps and grabs Laura's hand. "Come on," she says, leaning in. "I want to dance."

"Can I finish my drink?" Laura asks, tightening her fingers on the neck of her beer bottle.

"You're driving," Vala says, swiping it from her hand and leaving it on the bar, pulling Laura after her through the crowd, until they're surrounded by people, and no-one will look twice at Vala's arms round her waist, Laura's draped over Vala's shoulders as they shimmy along to a tune Laura's never heard in her life.

Well, maybe not no-one, but when she puts her mouth against Vala's ear to say, "We're being watched," Vala just laughs, says, "What do you expect, darling? We're the most beautiful people in the room."

Timestamp:Five Years After


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