blue flamingos

Orienteering Without A Map

Fandom: Stargate Atlantix

Category/Rated: Slash/R

Year/Length: 2012/9881 words

Pairing: John/Cam, Cam/OMC

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

Summary: John leaves, and Cam works at moving on. It gets a lot easier when he winds up in Washington DC

Series: Dysfunction 'verse.

Author's Notes: skieswideopen is to thank/blame for this fic existing. This is, I think, the end of the dysfunction verse, so here's what you need to know for it to make sense, or a very short summary of several tens of thousand words of fic: after Atlantis flew back to Earth, Jack and Daniel took John to bed in a way that wasn't a very good experience for him. John wound up looking for comfort with Cam, and struggled back on Atlantis, even more so when Cam went missing, then turned up in Atlantis. John left Atlantis, lived with Cam for a little while, and eventually left Cam because being in Colorado Springs wasn't good for his mental health.

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

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Part One

For the first few weeks after John leaves, Cam gets an email every couple of days from him. They don't say anything really – a comment about the weather, or an old movie he's watched – but Cam reads what they don't say: I'm still here.

He doesn't reply, not sure what to say. Not sure that John wants him to say anything.

And then one day he opens an email that starts, Hey, Cam. He doesn't care what it says about him and how brave he is, or isn't. It takes him five minutes to work up the nerve to scroll down and read the rest.

I'm going away. I didn't want to make you worry. I'm not going to email again. I don't know if I'm coming back. I am sorry.

It's good news, Cam's pretty sure. He may not know John all that well, but he doesn't think the email reads like someone who's running, or planning to do something drastic and final.

It just reads like someone saying goodbye, and Cam's never learned how to manage that gracefully.

It's good, he keeps telling himself, through two days trapped in the mountain doing paperwork, through Saturday buying groceries and cleaning his apartment and going for a run, through Sunday in church when he should be listening to the pastor, and through lunch after with Carolyn. It's good, because it means John is getting the help he clearly needs, it's good because a complete break with the programme will be good for John, it's good because John lived with Cam for two months when he came back from Atlantis, and Cam knows how close some of the alternatives came to being reality.

It's good, and so it shouldn't hurt. It shouldn't make Cam feel like there's something missing, some hole that knowing it's over has left behind. It's not like they were in love. Cam's not an idiot, and he knows that, in a lot of ways, he was John's safety net, not John's lover, not his partner. It's not even like he knew John, not really, not the way he was when he wasn't on the edge of everything falling apart.

None of that helps.

A couple of weeks after the email, Cam gets to the SGC to find Vala waiting for him at Security. Her hair's in bunches and she's grinning. Cam seriously contemplates turning back around and fleeing the building.

"Good morning, Cameron." She falls into step with him and hands over a small white envelope. "Open it," she says, then, before Cam can do so, "It's my birthday this weekend, I'm inviting you to a party."

Cam pulls out the invitation and checks the address – Vala's apartment, so apparently she isn't sneaking into anyone else's. "Sounds like fun."

"You could try to sound a little more enthusiastic," Vala admonishes, reaching out to swipe her card for the elevator. "Sam's in town, she's promised to come, and Carolyn and Walter, and Teal'c said he would if the Council don't need him that day." She ticks people off on her fingers as she lists them. "I invited Daniel, but he's got some boring thing in Washington. He sent a present though."

Cam can feel Vala looking at him, even though her tone of voice hasn't changed at all. He concentrates on pressing the button for their floor. "Great."

"You should bring John," Vala adds quietly.

Cam shakes his head, not sure what to say. No-one said anything when John quit the SGC and the Air Force and came to stay with Cam – temporary until he found his own place, they said, because it didn't matter to John any more, but Cam wasn't ready to leave. And then Cam didn't say anything when John left, because it seemed private, even if Cam was pretty sure people knew.

"He wouldn't come," he says.

"You should ask him anyway."

"I can't." The elevator deposits them on the office level, which does Cam approximately no good since Vala follows him into his office and closes the door. She's got the look in her eyes that means he's not going to get away with anything but telling her the truth. "He's gone," he says. "He went to his brother's, but I'm not sure where he is now. He sent an email saying goodbye."

He's not sure what he's expecting, but he does know that it isn't for Vala to come over and hug him. "I'm sorry," she says. Cam hugs her back, for want of a better idea of what to do. "I was hoping..."

Cam waits, but she doesn't finish the thought, and he doesn't know how well she and John knew each other, so he can't make a guess at what she's not saying. "Me, too," he says anyway.

hr

John keeps his word about not contacting Cam again. It's enough to make Cam regret not trying to build a better relationship with John's old team, because then he could ask. Cam remembers, vivid on nights when he can't sleep, John lying next to him, whispering, I miss them. Torren's talking, I'm missing that. If John's keeping in touch with anyone, it's his team, except maybe Cam's a little grateful for not being able to ask. For not having any chance of hearing them say that, no, John really has gone silent, severed all ties.

He doesn't entirely notice when he stops looking for emails from John, when it stops being weird that John's boots aren't stood neatly next to his inside the door. He wants to remember, but there's Vala, dragging him round to her apartment at every opportunity, and Sam back on Earth for six months while the Hammond gets retrofitted with the latest weapons upgrade. There's Dr Michaels and Major Sorenson who joined SG1 when Daniel moved to Washington; there's visits to Teal'c, now part of the Jaffa Council, and missions to new and unexplored worlds, and Saturday night poker with whoever isn't on a mission or in the infirmary.

There's life, and John isn't part of Cam's life any more.

hr

It's Vala's fault that Cam meets Nic in the first place. The team's on Earth for the Forth of July for the first time since she joined them, and when Cam mentions that there's a party in the courtyard of his building, she insists that they go.

"You could have gone without me," Cam points out over his shoulder as he pokes through the fridge for the potato salad he knows is in there somewhere.

"I don't live here," Vala explains patiently. "Anyway, you should get out more."

"I travel to other planets for a living, I get out plenty."

"And then you come home and sit here all on your own without even a cat to keep you company, Cameron, people will start to think we don't love you."

Cam straightens up so he can look at her, but she just raises an eyebrow back. Right then. "I'm not a cat person."

"That's not true. You love Buttons." Vala digs in her bag for what Cam can only assume will be yet more pictures of the tiny black kitten she adopted a couple of weeks ago, and he nudges her out of the apartment in self-defense.

The party's noisy and busy, like his strongest memories of home, with kids getting under everyone's feet and laughter coming from every direction. Vala throws herself into it like it doesn't matter at all that she lives on the other side of town, and Cam does his best to follow her example.

Unfortunately, his best only lasts a half hour, and then he's tucking himself away in the corner, nursing a beer and wondering how soon he can cut out of there.

"You want some protective company, or are you trying to blend into the buddleia?"

Cam looks up from fiddling with his phone, and finds himself looking at the embodiment of tall, dark and handsome, complete with easy grin and well-fitting shirt open at the neck. "Um," he says intelligently.

"I'm easy either way," tall, dark and handsome assures him. "But if you need a minute to think, my name's Nic."

Cam takes the offered hand. "Cam. And sure, I'll take protective company. I think I'm dressed wrong for blending in."

Nic's warm laugh makes it easy to smile back at him, and even easier to stay talking until long after Vala's left and the kids have been put to bed. Right up until Nic says, "I feel like this is where I offer to make some coffee, but I'm getting a bit old for obvious euphemisms, so – I live on the fifth floor, maybe you'd like to take this to where I feel like it's pretty clearly going?"

Turns out it's going to Nic on his knees next to a double bed and an open window, to Nic coming in his own hand over Cam's stomach. To the two of them falling asleep and waking up together and going on from there.

hr

Nic's a professor of chemistry at the University of Colorado, says that Cam's the first military officer he's ever known and that he used to bring his last partner to faculty functions. Still, when Cam explains that he can't be openly in a relationship with another man, Nic takes it pretty well, jokes about sneaking around and code words. Cam doesn't find that as reassuring as he thinks Nic means him to, but that's okay. It's not like he wants to start telling people, or take someone home to meet his family.

He tries not to think about how John had been an open secret, at least to the people he could trust. He doesn't tell anyone about Nic.

None of which excuses how surprised he is when Nic, absently tracing his fingers over Cam's stomach as they catch their breath, says, "I was hoping you might be free for Thanksgiving. I play host to a group of friends every year, I'd like you to come."

"I thought I just did," Cam jokes weakly, and winces. "Sorry."

"I got the impression you won't be seeing your family," Nic says. He's not wrong – Cam got the time last year, it's someone else's turn this time – though Cam's not sure where Nic got that impression from. "And your employers don't seem like they'd have a staff party."

In Cam's experience, national celebrations just attract the latest group to want to take over Earth. "I'm probably working the day."

"You could join us in the evening." Nic's fingers are still moving over Cam's skin, but he's not meeting Cam's eyes, which probably isn't a good sign. "Or is that you trying to let me down gently?"

"It's –" Cam nudges Nic's hand gently away so he can sit up. "I've never done that before. I don't know."

Nic doesn't touch, and Cam hopes he won't ask. Cam doesn't think he can explain twenty years of the kinds of relationships he felt safe having in the Air Force – the kind that he only hinted at to people he knew he could trust, the kind that fell apart when one or other of them got a new posting, the kind that stretched over years of snatched time when they happened to be stationed together, on leave near each other, until the gap got too long and it was over. Nic's so open about who he is, and Cam isn't sure he can bridge that gap of understanding.

"I'd like you there, but I don't want to pressure you," Nic says, sounding like he's choosing his words carefully. "Some of my friends know I'm seeing someone, so they'd probably guess, but I can tell them you're a friend from my building. They won't ask, if I tell them not to."

It's not a solution at all, though Nic clearly means it to be, not when Cam's problem isn't about being treated as Nic's boyfriend; it's about having people know who he is when he doesn't know who they are. "I don't know," he says again. "Can I think about it?"

"Of course," Nic says, and even without looking at him, Cam knows Nic's already assuming Cam's answer will be no.

hr

They don't talk about Thanksgiving again, and when Michaels suggests the team spend it together, Cam says yes and doesn't tell Nic. He asks for leave at Christmas to go back to Kansas and gets it; Nic doesn't look surprised when Cam tells him this.

Nic calls Christmas Day to wish him well, and Cam tries not to be disappointed that he's not John.

hr

Everyone knows when the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell starts being discussed as a serious prospect, early in January. It's not exactly a hot topic of discussion at the SGC – most people who sign up to fight aliens are fairly open-minded – though Michaels is full of thrilled anticipation that makes Cam wonder what he's missed about her.

"Do you think it will pass?" Nic asks one night, watching the news in his apartment.

Cam shrugs. He can't distinguish between what he realistically expects and what's just hope, not any more. He knows he wants it, if not for himself, then for all the young officers coming up through the SGC, so that they won't have to hide and keep secrets and be scared.

He wants it for John, because maybe it wouldn't have made any difference, but maybe it would, and then maybe what happened to John wouldn't have happened, and things wouldn't have ended like this.

"I hope so," he says, aware that the silence has gone on too long. He can feel Nic watching him, wondering about him.

"Would things really be different? I mean, would one policy change that much?"

That's what Cam wonders. That's what scares him, that this will feel like change but won't be change, that this big gesture of how things are different now will just be a gesture.

"Cameron?" Nic says softly. "Is everything all right?"

"I have to go," Cam says, without thinking about it. He can't look at Nic, can't be there any longer. "I'm sorry, I'll call you tomorrow, I just – I have to leave."

Nic's on his feet, though he doesn't reach for Cam. He's frowning, worried, and it makes Cam want to run. "Would you like me to call someone for you?"

Cam shakes his head, stupid with the need to get away. "I'm sorry," he says.

He means to go back to his own apartment; he finds himself in the parking lot instead, cell in his hand. He has John's cell number stored in his contacts, but he can't even decide which outcome would be worse, it ringing and ringing with no answer, or John's voice, or an automatic message saying the number's no longer in use.

He calls Sam instead. "Can I come over?"

"Of course." She sounds worried, and he's lucky she's back on Earth right now. "What's happened?"

"Nothing. Sorry. I shouldn't have bothered you."

"It's fine, Cam. Come over."

Sam hugs him when she opens her door at his knock, then pulls back and looks at him. "Come on, I'll make some tea, and you can tell me what's going on."

Cam waits until he's got his mug of tea to look at instead of Sam, before asking, "When you talked to Jackson and O'Neill..."

He can feel Sam go still as she figures out what's he's talking about. "I remember."

"What did they say? About – why John."

"You think that's why he –" She stops, the way everyone does when they need to refer to John leaving.

Cam shakes his head. "I think it was a long time coming." He's thought more about John's breakdown than he probably should, and about the role his own disappearance played in it. "I can't understand how they didn't see."

Jackson was on his way out of SG1 even before he and O'Neill picked up John and screwed with his head, but Cam's pretty sure he'd have ended up leaving anyway – there was no way he and Cam could carry on working together.

"They don't always think too clearly," Sam says, a faint note of apology in her voice that forces Cam to remember she was part of their team for a long time. "Being part of SG1 – it was a rough ride. And I guess they thought John could handle it, or that he would have said no if he couldn't."

Cam saw John the day after, and he knows for damn sure that John wasn't in any place to make a decision about what he could or couldn't handle. He's not even sure that John made a decision about Cam, rather than just falling into the first place he felt safe.

"Do you know where he is?" he asks. "Could you find him?"

"Cam," Sam says, sounding hurt. "Don't ask me to do that."

"I just want –"

"He left, Cam," Sam says gently. "He needs us to respect that."

Cam sighs, dropping his head back and closing his eyes. "You ever wish you'd never heard of the SGC?"

"Yeah," Sam says. "More than once."

hr

The repeal passes, which results in rather more people than Cam was anticipating coming out to him, including Michaels, though she won't tell him who she's seeing, only that she's seeing a female pilot at Peterson.

"Why me?" Cam asks Carolyn in their favorite diner after church.

Carolyn raises one eyebrow over her coffee mug.

"I don't –" Cam starts, but he can't help grinning at her. "Fine, so, now I'm the gay uncle of the SGC."

"You like it," Carolyn says lightly, then, a little more seriously, "You do, don't you?"

"Yeah, kind of." He still doesn't feel safe enough to do more than thank them for trusting him to tell him, but he likes that they feel safe. "You not got anything you want to tell me?"

"Nothing you don't already know." Carolyn leans back to let the waitress put down waffles and pancakes. "Thank you. What about you?"

"What about me what?"

Carolyn just looks at him, and Cam caves, the same way everyone at the SGC does when she gives them her doctor look. "There's someone, but it's complicated."

"No kidding. You want to talk about it?"

It's the question that Nic hasn't been asking, that Cam's been making sure they dance around, because he still has no idea what he'll say when Nic asks him if he plans on coming out now he can. "Maybe not yet."

Carolyn smiles. "Guess I'll just have to tell you about the nice girl I went out with on Friday."

"So much for nothing I don't already know."

hr

It's bad luck, more than anything else. The planet they're visiting is in the middle of rainy season, the ground slippery under their feet as they make their way to the caves they've gated there to look at, following up on some Ancient carvings that SG5 found. They'd probably have been fine, even after the Lucien Alliance turned up, except then someone recognized Cam, and between the gun fight and the muddy cliff edge, the last thing Cam remembered was hitting the ground so hard he felt his brain rattle.

He wakes up to the familiar sounds and smells of the SGC infirmary, accompanied by the fuzzy feeling of high-dose painkillers that never means anything good.

"You can't fool me," Vala says cheerfully, somewhere to Cam's left. "I know you're awake."

"Kind of think I'd rather not be." Cam opens his eyes anyway, focusing on Vala instead of checking what's wrong with him. He'll know soon enough, and until then, he prefers blissful ignorance.

Vala looks tired, her hair loose around her face, her uniform jacket slung over the back of her chair. She's missing the mud stains they all picked up on the planet though, which means Cam's been out of it for longer than he'd like. She grins when Cam catches her eye, but there's concern under it.

"Michaels and Sorenson?" Cam asks.

"Emma twisted her ankle, but otherwise, we're all fine." Vala watches him for a long moment, but she's clearly no more ready to tell him what's wrong than he is to ask.

They're saved from rapidly approaching awkward silence by Carolyn appearing at the foot of the bed. "You're awake, good. How are you feeling?"

"High as a kite," Cam says honestly. "Break it to me gently, yeah?"

He's not expecting Carolyn to glance over at Vala, or for her to push herself out of the chair, gathering her jacket as she does so. "I'm going to find you Jell-o."

Cam watches her go. "I guess maybe I wasn't kidding when I asked you to break it to me gently?"

"You took a serious fall. Major Sorenson carried you back, you were in and out the whole journey, according to him. We patched up the bullet wound to your shoulder."

Cam checks, and yeah, there's a bandage peeking out from under his scrub top. "That's not why you're looking at me like that."

"You know we've been keeping an eye on your hip since the crash in Antarctica." Carolyn waits for Cam to nod. "You suffered a severe fracture in the fall. We took you into surgery but it wasn't as successful as we'd hoped it would be."

Cam blinks, pushing away the memories of the last time someone talked him through injuries and surgery. He's always known he's at increased risk for a host of not-fun sounding problems in later life, but he's been lucky. He should have expected his luck to run out. "What does that mean?"

"We need to wait for things to stabilise, so none of this is certain, but at the moment, you're looking at hip replacement surgery sooner rather than later."

"That's not – my uncle had that, he was walking around again like –"

Carolyn shakes her head, her expression soft and unhappy. "It's not going to be a miracle cure for you, Cam, I'm sorry. With your other injuries from the crash, the effects of this fall, recovery and physical therapy time... I can't see a Medical Board clearing you to go back into the field, and I wouldn't want them to. The risk of permanent disability from another injury, it's not worth it."

"You're talking about a medical discharge."

"Not yet. Maybe not at all, but – I think you need to start preparing yourself for the prospect of permanently limited duty."

No more travelling to other planets, no more flying cool alien spaceships, no more daring rescues. No more of Sorenson's dry humor, Vala's bright cheer, Michaels' enthusiasm and curiosity. Hell, no more running off through the gate to visit with Teal'c.

No more SG1.

Part Two

The first day Cam walks into Homeworld Security, dress blues perfectly pressed, shoes perfectly shining, ID pass clipped to his collar, leaning on the cane he still needs almost a year after his fall – it feels like defeat. Like finally admitting, after all the time and pain and struggle, that the Antarctica crash took most of what he loved about being in the Air Force.

He only lets himself think that until he reaches the elevator. It's not as hard as he expects to dredge up some optimism – he's never been someone who dwells on things he can't change, not really. He's met some of the people he's going to be working with, and they seem like good people, friendly and welcoming. He's working in the somewhat euphemistically titled Alliance Relationships office, which appears to mean less political paperwork and more occasional opportunities to go meet with one of their allies.

And, though he'll never admit it, it helps that O'Neill retired six months ago, moved to Boston where Jackson has a teaching job. Cam figures he's got enough behaving like an adult to deal with everything he's lost due to his injury, and with the constant low-level joint pain that the Washington winter exacerbates, but not quite enough to deal with seeing O'Neill on a regular basis.

Vala calls at the end of Cam's first week. "What are you wearing?" she asks before Cam's even finished saying hello.

He's actually wearing his robe, since he was about to go soak in the tub, see if the hot water could ease the way his back aches from walking with the cane, but he's not telling Vala that for anything. "I don't think we have that kind of relationship."

"Oh, but we could," she purrs, then laughs. "You're no fun at all."

"So they tell me," Cam agrees. "Just for the record, I have no intention of asking what you're wearing, and would really be happier if you didn't tell me."

"You expect me to resist temptation when you dangle it in front of me like that? Cameron, it's like you don't know me at all."

"You're right. Forget I spoke. How's everything down there?"

Vala's sigh crackles over the line, followed by a thud that probably means she's just thrown herself onto her bed. "I think Colonel Williamson hates us."

"You've been saying that since he took over command of SG1."

"That's because it's true! He wouldn't let me go looking even a little bit for treasure this afternoon. He said we had more important things to do with our time, even after Emma pointed out that it could have historical value."

"I'm glad you've got someone who knows how to say no to you," Cam says, well aware of the irony in it when that's not something he ever learned.

Vala huffs. "He's no fun."

"You just said that about me. He needs time to get used to you." Aint that the truth – not that anyone really gets used to Vala, in Cam's experience.

Vala asks about Cam's new posting, about his apartment, about Washington, and tells him all the SGC gossip, including the latest clues she's gathered in her mission to figure out the name of Michael's partner – Cam doesn't have the heart to reveal that Michaels told him all about her when he was flat on his back after the second round of hip surgery, and even showed him a couple of pictures.

"Met any nice women in Washington?" Vala asks. "Or men – I've been to the Pentagon, you know, it's full of attractive men in uniforms."

"Been a little busy trying to find my way around," Cam says lightly. Vala knows he and Nic broke up – well, that Nic dumped him, to be strictly accurate, after one too many incidences of Cam going back into hospital and Nic not being able to visit – and she seems determined that he find someone else and be happy. "Anyway, I don't hear anything about you dating."

"How's a girl to choose, darling?" Vala says, equally light, and Cam takes the hint, changes the subject.

hr

Cam's on his way back to his floor after a meeting with the R&D guys when a familiar figure steps out of an office ahead of him. He's calling out before common sense can kick in and tell him the guy isn't who Cam thinks he is. "Sheppard."

The man stops. Cam's got his mouth open to apologise when the man turns, and the apology dies in the back of his throat because it wasn't wishful thinking, he really is looking at John Sheppard, wearing a dark suit, his tie already loosened. He doesn't look as surprised to see Cam as Cam is to see him – there's something almost resigned on his face. "Mitchell."

"I – you're working here?" Cam asks, but he knows he's wrong before he even finishes asking the question, because John's not in uniform, John's not in the Air Force any more.

"Not exactly." John looks both ways down the corridor, groups of men and women in uniform moving around them. "I'm going to be late for a meeting."

Cam feels absurdly like John's about to blink out of existence – like he maybe isn't even real. "Can we – could I buy you a coffee after, maybe? If –" He stops, not sure how to ask whether John prefers to have nothing to do with old SGC contacts. If all he is to John is an old SGC contact. "If you've got time," he finishes with.

"I don't know." John frowns, obviously uncertain, and it just highlights how much better he looks than he did the last time Cam saw him. Less exhausted, less sad. Pulled together. "I've got a lot on today."

Cam's pretty sure John's lying, or at least trying to dodge the question. He takes a step back. "Sure. It's good to see you anyway."

John visibly hesitates, then smiles wryly. "I should be done in an hour. You know the coffee shop with the giant palms?" Cam nods. "I'll see you there when I get done here."

hr

Cam's been waiting nearly fifteen minutes, is on the edge of deciding John's changed his mind, when John walks in, looking around.

"Sorry," he says, stopping with his hands on the free chair at Cam's table. "Meeting ran long."

"Can I buy your coffee?"

John checks his watch, grimaces. "It's going to have to be take-out, I've got to get back." He looks over his shoulder, then back to Cam. "Listen, I'm going out of town tonight for a couple of days, but when I get back, maybe we could get dinner? Catch-up?"

It's not what it sounds like, Cam tells himself. Except that John probably knows as well as he does how to ask so it doesn't sound like – And it doesn't matter. Whether John means as friends or as a date or just as 'hey, I leaned on you when I was having a bad time, let me show you I'm okay now.' "I'd like that," he says.

hr

The restaurant John picked is a nice looking, non-chain Italian place that makes Cam grin when he sees it, remembering how what felt like all of his class at the Academy took their dates for Italian. Everyone likes Italian, right? Scott had said. Can't go wrong if it's a first date.

Cam kind of hopes this is a first date, even if it's weird to be on a first date with someone he's already slept with a number of times. He wonders if John's sending some kind of message with this, by making the generic choice rather than something specific to what he knows of Cam's tastes; if this is John trying to tell him that what happened before isn't part of what might or might not be happening now.

Then he tells himself that he's over-thinking this worse than all his teenage nieces, nephews and cousins put together, straightens his scarf, and crosses over to the restaurant.

He's a few minutes late, so he's not surprised to find John already there, glass of water by one hand, the menu in the other. He's wearing another long-sleeved shirt open at the neck, this one light blue, and Cam's struck, suddenly, by just how good looking John is, even with the crow's feet in the corners of his eyes and the sprinkling of silver in his hair. Maybe because of those, the way they make it clear that John's been through stuff, the evidence that he's survived.

Maybe just because when John catches sight of Cam, his smile is warm and makes Cam want to smile back in the goofy fashion he thought he left behind a long time ago. "You find the place okay? I was going to call and check, but then I realized we never exchanged numbers."

"You're the one who gets lost on the ground," Cam says lightly, instead of asking if John still has his number from before.

"Yeah, well, that's why they invented maps, right?" John tips the water jug in Cam's direction, then pours when he nods, ice dropping neatly into Cam's glass without splashing. Cam nods his thanks, and for a moment, he feels like he's with a stranger. He can barely see the John who floated through his apartment for weeks like a ghost in the guy sitting opposite him, and it's jarring. He's pretty sure he likes this John though, or will get to, given the chance. "You're with Department 44 now?"

Cam tells him the edited – and, like Homeworld's numerical designation, suitable for public consumption – story of his slide from gate-team leader to desk jockey, interspersed with the waiter coming by to take their order and John's wincing sympathy in response to Cam's injuries, how he carefully doesn't look at Cam's cane.

"That sucks, I'm sorry," he says when Cam finishes up, so here I am. "Department must be glad to have you though."

Cam shrugs, knowing it could have ended up a lot worse. Hell, it could have ended up with him back in a wheelchair, if it had been a little worse. "Are you – I guess you're not with the Program any longer?"

John takes a sip of wine, an obvious stalling tactic given the way he looks out into the restaurant, away from Cam.

"I'm not –" Cam stops, sorts through what he figures is okay to say in public when he's not bound by an NDA. "Whatever happened after you went away – I'm not asking about that. If you want to tell me, but – I'm just curious what you're up to now."

John laughs, shakes his head a little. "Making small talk?"

"Something like that," Cam says, returning John's smile. "Maybe a little more than just small talk."

John meets Cam's gaze, holds it for a long moment. Abruptly, Cam finds it very easy to remember that yeah, this is the guy he slept with, the memory of it crackling between them.

John looks away first, but slowly, letting the moment dissipate instead of breaking it. "I've been in Washington... seven months, maybe? Working for a company the Program contracts some R&D work out to, low level stuff mainly, engine parts." He shrugs, self-deprecating. "I don't know, they were looking for a new liaison, Nancy put my name forward." He makes the same gesture Cam did - so here I am.

"Nancy?" Cam asks, trying to place the name.

"My ex-wife," John says, something amused quirking his face. "Turns out we get along much better when my dad's not around for us to try to please."

He says it so easily, none of the bitterness Cam half-expects to go with the words, and Cam experiences the same moment of disconnect between John who reached out for things that harmed him because he was lost, and John who can talk about his dad like a throw-away comment.

"Good drugs," John says quietly, like an explanation. "And a better therapist."

Cam nods, not sure what to say, grateful that he's saved from having to think of something by the arrival of their food and the easy way John changes the subject to talk about mutual acquaintances he's still in contact with, an occasional comment that makes it clear John's back in touch with his old team from Atlantis, and that this is, finally, a good thing again.

They say goodbye with a handshake later, and John hands over a card. "In case you want to do it again," he says. "Now that we've suffered through all the small talk."

hr

Cam means to call John a few days later – soon enough so John knows he's interested, long enough so he doesn't seem pushy – but John calls him before he gets that far.

"Are you busy this Saturday?" he asks when they're done with pleasantries.

Cam's off-world for a couple of days at the end of the week, but, barring disaster, he'll be back in Washington Friday night. "Not so far."

"You might regret saying that," John warns, then goes on before Cam can say anything. "Nancy volunteers for a charity that's involved in an event this weekend, and she asked me to go."

"I thought she got remarried?"

"Not as a date – I kind of owe her for putting me in touch with this job, she's calling in a favor." Cam can hear the smile in John's voice as he says it. "It's all organisations that do work with kids, Nancy coaches a girls' soccer team, kids who've survived abuse. It's some kind of big tournament, but there'll be hotdogs, and she promised not too many speeches."

"You going to buy me a hotdog? Because I'm not going otherwise."

"I'll even spring for cotton candy if they have any," John promises.

hr

Saturday is bright, but cold enough for Cam to pull out a pair of gloves he hasn't worn in a while, and to be grateful that John's picking him up so he doesn't have to brave Washington's public transport system.

Despite the chill in the air, he can't help laughing when they step out of the car and John pulls a knitted bobble hat down over his ears. John glares back. "My niece knitted this for me."

"She's got interesting fashion sense," Cam says, as neutrally as he can manage when the hat is a riot of pink, purple, blue and green stripes, the bobble bright yellow.

"It's a happy hat," John says, straightening it unnecessarily. "You'll wish you had one when your ears get cold."

"You won't lend it to me?"

"You laughed at it." John glances across the parking lot. "There's Nancy, come meet her."

Cam's not sure what he was expecting, but the woman he's faced with isn't it. He knows Nancy works for Homeland Security, and in his head, she's wearing a suit and heels, her hair neatly done. In reality, she's in jeans and a sweatshirt a couple of sizes too large for her, a black knit hat pulled over her ears, a pair of running shoes on her feet. She grins at John, touches his shoulder lightly as they say hello.

"Cam, this is Nancy; Nancy, Cam."

"Pleasure." They shake, Nancy's bare hand feeling tiny through Cam's glove. "John's said mostly good things about you."

"You, too." It's more or less true – John's said very little about Nancy, most of it entirely neutral, but he hasn't said anything actively bad.

Nancy raises an eyebrow at John like she knows Cam's lying. "I'll settle for him being here."

"I come to things," John protests.

"You came to one thing," Nancy corrects. She still sounds teasing, but Cam thinks he can see a tension in her that wasn't there a moment ago. "I'm glad you're here for this, that's all I'm saying."

"Yeah." John turns slightly, looking out across the soccer field where a couple of groups of young people are already warming up.

Nancy watches him for a long second, then turns back to Cam. "I've got to go find my girls, so I'll catch up with you later. It's good to meet you."

"You too."

Cam waits till she's out of earshot, then takes a step to the side, onto the edge of John's line of sight. "There's coffee here somewhere, right? Because I think we're going to need it."

"Yeah," John says, a little absent, but he shakes himself, looks at Cam. "Yeah, there's coffee, come on."

hr

Cam doesn't exactly follow the logic of the tournament, but that doesn't much matter. It takes John a little while to relax again from whatever nerve Nancy hit, and then he gets into the games as much as the parents and coaches, cheering the goals and playfully jeering at the referees. By the time the event is over, speeches made and medals given out, they're stuffed full of hotdogs and cotton candy, and even Cam's ears are feeling warm.

They make the drive back to Cam's place in relative quiet, the radio playing low to break the silence. Cam can't help the looks he keeps sneaking at John, his bright eyes and the flush on his face from the cold, the way his hair is sticking up from his happy hat, which he didn’t take off all afternoon.

Cam can't speak for John, but he knows that he feels more relaxed than he has since before he moved to Washington.

He's drifting a little when John stops a couple of doors down from Cam's apartment block and turns off the engine.

"Thanks," Cam says, not quite ready to leave yet. "I had fun."

John grins at him. "Me too."

"So –"

"My therapist says I'm not very good at making it clear what I want," John says before Cam can stumble over the words he's looking for. "But I'm hoping you knew this was a, a date."

"I was hoping it was," Cam agrees. He wants to reach over and kiss John, presses his hands together so he doesn't.

"I want to kiss you," John says. There's a beat of nothing, of Cam waiting for him to do it, and then John says, "Can I?" and Cam says, "Yes," as he's reaching for John.

It feels like a first kiss, even though Cam can remember the first time John kissed him. It feels like a first date kind of kiss too, a little uncertain, feeling things out, but hoping there's going to be more. Hoping this isn't all there is.

John ducks his head a little when he eases back, laughing slightly. "Yeah."

Cam wants to do it again. He wants to invite John inside, do a lot more than just kiss in the car. Instead, he checks his pocket for his cell and keys, because John may seem much, much better now, but Cam's not fool enough to assume everything is fine now, and maybe he can't help by letting John lead, but he sure as hell can't hurt, especially when he thinks about John, on his knees in Cam's living room, the utterly shattered expression on his face when he realized Cam hadn’t invited him over to fuck.

"I'd like to see you again," he says, offering.

"How about a movie?" John suggests.

hr

And so, Cam finds himself dating John Sheppard. It's a weird kind of dating, because if he's honest, he hasn't dated since the Academy. He's been on dates, but they've been prelude-to-sex dates, and he's had a lot of the kind of sex that doesn't come with dates.

Even if that wasn't true, even if there wasn't the shadow of the repeal hanging over him, dating John is a weird experience. They go to the movies, have dinner, get coffee, visit all the places in Washington that John says he has to see, and then they kiss goodnight in someone's car, or on someone's doorstep, and it feels like waiting, like they're both waiting, but neither of them know what they're waiting for.

Cam doesn't know how to bring it up, which just makes everything weirder, because before, even when John had just left Atlantis and retired from the Air Force, even when John wouldn't, or couldn't, talk to him, Cam always knew what to say. Now he feels wrong-footed, like part of him is having a relationship with John the way he was, even while the majority of him is dating John the way he is now.

So it's weird, but it's good too, because he likes John, so much he feels stupid with it sometimes. He looks forward to seeing John when he's not, sends random text messages about his day, finds himself grinning like an idiot when John's number flashes up on his cell, and it's all just – good.

If he was a paranoid person, he'd probably say that, in hindsight, he should have expected things to go wrong.

hr

They text back and forth pretty regularly, and Cam's come back from an off-world trip to a run of unchecked messages more than once, so he worries, a little, when John stops replying to him the night before they're supposed to get together again. He tries not to be paranoid though, tells himself that John's probably just busy. He doesn't entirely believe himself, even before he finds himself sitting in the bar where they're supposed to be having dinner, listening to John's voicemail for the third time in the half hour that John's been late.

It's possible that John's been caught up at work, or that something's come up – John's still not exactly forthcoming, but Cam knows he's in close touch with his brother's family these days, has a handful of friends at work that he spends time with outside of the office. Cam can't shake the sense that something is wrong, though – the last time John broke a date, he called to let Cam know, made a joke about rom-com movies where the guy who's been stood up gets picked up by the love of his life instead.

He's in his car, driving towards John's apartment, before he's really made the decision to go.

John lives on the top floor of a large house that's been converted into apartments, and Cam can see a light on in one of the windows. It doesn't make him feel any more confident that everything's fine.

There's a long pause after he buzzes John's apartment, long enough that he's about to buzz again when John's voice says, "Yes?" He sounds like he's just woken up.

"It's Cam." He hesitates, not sure what to say. "We were going to have dinner."

Another pause. "Come up," John says, and the door buzzes open.

Cam's never been into John's apartment before, but it doesn't seem like this is his chance to look around – whatever light was on is either behind a closed door, or now turned off. The only remaining light comes from a dim standing lamp, casting John into shadow where's sitting in the corner of the couch, legs pulled up under him.

Cam hesitates in the doorway. "You okay?"

He can't tell if John's looking at him, isn't even sure John heard him when John says, "You coming in, or you just going to stand there?"

"Coming in." Cam nudges the apartment door shut, crosses to sit on the low coffee table in front of John, his cane at his feet. This close, he can see shadows under John's eyes that he's pretty sure aren't caused by the dim lighting, and it's obvious that John's avoiding looking at him. "I tried to call you."

"Didn't hear my phone," John says, not even bothering to cover up how he's clearly lying. "I forgot."

Cam leans in, rests a hand on John's knee, feeling how tense he is. "What's happened?" he asks.

For a moment, he thinks John's going to actually tell him. He's not expecting John to shift suddenly, to wrap a hand around the back of Cam's neck and pull him in for a forceful kiss. Cam kisses back for a moment, automatic, and it feels good. It's not like he's never kissed anyone because he just wanted to think about something else.

The position is awkward, John probably on the verge of falling off the couch, Cam leaning further forward than is entirely comfortable, but John sighs a little into the kiss, and Cam doesn't want to stop, not when it's the most reaction he's gotten out of John in twenty-four hours.

He's half-waiting for John to move it further, so John's hand sliding up between his legs is less of a surprise than John's kiss. Cam can't stop himself shifting slightly into it, John's hand tightening on him and – Sharp as the memories the memory device pulled up, he remembers John, on his knees in front of Cam, the night after what happened with Jackson and O'Neill. How John has looked almost scared, shoving himself away from Cam when Cam said no.

Cam leans back, puts a hand on John's. "Stop." John's got his head down and doesn't move his hand. "John, come on." He tries to lift John's hand away, but John tightens it, making Cam gasp a little, involuntary. It's been a long time since anyone touched him, even if he doesn't want it like this.

John looks up then, his eyes dark and distant. "How long have we been going out?" he asks, something halfway to mocking in the words.

"Couple of months or so."

"You're telling me you don't want this?" John squeezes Cam's cock again. "You already fucked me, it's not like you're waiting for it to be special."

"Stop it." Cam pulls John's hand away, shoves himself to his feet, every damaged part of him screaming as he does it, his balance wobbling without his cane.

"Cam," John says, voice low. "Come on, you know it'll be good. That's what you want out of this, right?"

Cam takes a deep breath, shoves down his first instinct to protest, and tries to listen to the tone of John's voice, instead of the words. There's something vulnerable there, like John's maybe expecting Cam to say okay – to say that, yes, the reason he's been dating John for the last months is that he just wants to fuck John, that none of the rest of it means anything.

He finds a chair, kitty-corner to the couch John's still sitting on, and eases himself down onto it. "I like you," he says slowly. He tries to catch John's eye, but John doesn't go for it. "I like dating you, I like being your friend, I like kissing you. I'd like to sleep with you some time, but it's a long way down the list of things I want with you."

John makes a small, broken sound, and Cam wants to reach for him, offer whatever comfort he can. "I'm not just in this for sex," Cam says. "And I know you know that, because you wouldn’t be with me if I was."

Cam feels something change, John sinking back into whatever black mood he was in when Cam arrived. "Can you tell me what you need?" Cam asks gently.

John's silent for a long time, curled in on himself like he's in pain. "I don't want to talk," he says finally.

"Do you want me to go?" Cam asks when John doesn't say anything else.

John shakes his head.

"Then I'll stay. Okay if I put the game on?" John nods, hands over the remote.

When Cam glances over during half-time, John's resting his head on the arm of the couch, pretty clearly asleep. Cam breathes a shaky sigh of relief, and turns the volume down so it doesn't wake him.

hr

John wakes slowly when Cam shakes him twenty minutes or so after the game ends. He still looks drawn and tired, but something's cleared a little in his expression, and he smiles when Cam says, "Pizza's here."

They eat at John's kitchen table – John's insistence, not Cam's – quiet if not quite comfortable. John's apartment is nice, uncluttered with warm yellow walls and big windows that look out over the nearby roofs. The best part, though, is the huge sky light in the sloping kitchen ceiling, and Cam can imagine John staring out of it on bright days, watching the sky and the clouds overhead.

"Look," John says suddenly, snapping Cam back to the table. John's turning his water glass between his hands, and obviously forcing himself to look at Cam instead of the table. "I have bad days, and I can't always shake them off. And I think stupid things, and I can't always stop myself from trying to prove the stupid things are right, even if I don't want them to be." He looks away, then back. "Even if I know they're not."

"Okay," Cam says. "Thank you for telling me."

"You sound like my therapist," John says, dryly amused. "Who's going to lecture me for – I'm supposed to call her, but I'm not always very good at it."

"Maybe next time – could I call her?" Cam offers.

"Maybe," John agrees. "It's hard to explain. I don't always know that I should." He makes a face. "I can't explain it right."

"Can I ask you something?"

John grimaces, straightens his shoulders like he's facing a CO. "Yes. I can't guarantee that I'll be able to answer it in a way that makes sense though – my therapist's good, she's not magic."

Cam smiles, pleased when John smiles back. "I'm not sure what I'm trying to ask. If I hadn't said no, how far would you have gone?"

John shakes his head. "As far as you wanted me to, probably." He says it simply, like Cam's asked how far he'd be willing to travel for a date.

"What about what you wanted?"

"Are you asking about me and you, or about Jack and Daniel?" John asks, and Cam wonders how much of John's perceptiveness has always been there, and how much comes from therapy.

"You were pretty messed up after," he says, picking his words carefully.

"I was messed up after because I was messed up before, and I made a stupid decision that I thought would make things better and it just made them worse." John sighs, dropping his head. "What I did with them was a bad experience, and I wish I hadn't done it. I think I knew I shouldn't be doing it when I was, but I could have said no and I didn't. I chose not to say no, I chose to let them...
It was consensual and I need you to accept that."

To Cam, it doesn't sound consensual. It sounds like O'Neill and Jackson took advantage of John when he was vulnerable, and didn't pay enough attention to know that they should have stopped. He believes John that they didn't force him into doing anything, but the idea that John was in any place where he could say no is just – not one Cam can believe, not after what John tried earlier in the evening.

"I know what you're thinking," John says, watching Cam. "It wasn't the first time I – that I've done something like that when I felt like that. I've said no before, I could have said it then."

"Okay," Cam says. He wants to tell John that he believes it, but he knows John would know that he's lying.

John offers a faint smile, like he knows what Cam's thinking. "I have PTSD, and depression. It happened when I was getting close to hitting bottom. I'm getting better, but sometimes it's bad and I don't know what to do to make it better. Sometimes I don't even know why it's bad. It's been worse than today."

Cam remembers the weeks after John came back from Atlantis – how sometimes, when Cam got home at the end of the day, John was still in bed, sleeping, and how sometimes John would disappear for hours and not be able to say where he'd been when he got back. It hasn't been that long – he can believe that John still has really bad days. "I'd like to help, if I can. Or at least to know what you want me to do."

John laughs. "That wasn't – I meant, this is what I'm like, now, and I understand if you don't want to be with me like this."

Cam reaches for John's hand, and John fits their hands together. "I want to be with you," Cam says.

hr

"So," John says, one Tuesday when Cam's got the phone on speaker while he makes chocolate cake, and John's still in the office, working late. "I was thinking about Friday."

"Change your mind about the movie?"

"Sort of." Cam stops, bag of flour in hand, at the hesitation in John's voice. "I was thinking, I've got the DVD, we could watch it at my place."

"Sure," Cam says slowly. They'd planned on going to a showing of Star Wars, part of a sci-fi weekend at a movie theatre a colleague of Cam's recommended, but he's not super-invested in the plan.

"Okay," John says. "I, um – I'm not great at dinner, but I could-" He sighs. "I'm trying to ask if you want to stay over," he says in a rush.

"Oh." It's been three, nearly four, weeks since John's bad day, and it's not like Cam wasn't thinking about sex before John so explicitly put it on the table. "I could do that."

"Great." John sounds like he's smiling. "That's – great."

hr

Cam does his best to concentrate on the movie, he really does, but he's seen it enough to have practically memorised it. And he's distracted, by how warm and easy the evening has been so far, by John, sitting close enough that their arms brush every time John takes a sip of his wine. Cam feels twitchy with proximity, with anticipation, unable to stop fidgeting.

He's not entirely surprised when John puts a hand on his thigh, stills his leg. It works, Cam's entire body going still under the feel of John's hand on his body, the warmth through his jeans.

"Huh," John says softly. Cam glances over, finds John's looking back at him, a little curious, smiling.

"Thought this was supposed to get less nerve-wracking with age," Cam offers.

It makes John grin. "You're nervous?"

"I –" Cam really doesn't want to break the easy mood, but the truth is, he is nervous. "We should talk."

John's horrified face makes Cam laugh. "Really?"

"I know what you said about before." Cam feels stupid, fumbling for words. "But I don't want to – I want this to be a good experience."

John sighs. "I'm not broken," he says, sounding tired.

"I know that." Cam can't twist to look at him, so he moves until he's sitting on the coffee table. "I don't want to hurt you. I want this to be better than last time."

"You're a good guy, Cam Mitchell." John leans forward, his hand on Cam's knee again, and kisses Cam, soft and close-mouthed. "I want to take you to bed," he says against Cam's mouth. "And get you naked, and blow you until you come in my mouth." He kisses Cam again. "Then I want to come with your hand on me. How does that sound to you?"

Cam's already starting to get hard. He pushes further into John's space and kisses him hard. "That sounds like the best idea I've heard in ages," he says.

John grins. "Then how about we put it into action?"

"You don't want to watch the end of the movie?" Cam asks, serious as he can manage.

John glances over Cam's shoulder. "I really don't."

It's not as smooth as John's words made it seem it might be. Cam's more self-conscious about his damaged body than he likes to admit, struggles to relax naked, even under John's warm hands and easy kisses. It's a blip though, same as John's moment of freezing up when Cam, still catching his breath from his own orgasm, wraps a hand around John's erection.

"Okay?" Cam asks.

"Yeah." John shakes himself a little, like he's nudging something away, but his smile is open and real as he pushes into Cam's hand. "Yeah, that's good, come on."

John presses close as he comes down from his orgasm, makes a small, pleased noise when Cam curls an arm around his back and holds John there. "All right?" John asks. He sounds half-asleep.

"Kind of sticky," Cam says. "We should clean up."

"Don't care." Cam feels John's eyelashes brush his chest. "Nap first," he adds, and Cam really doesn't want to argue, not when it's this easy to listen to John fall asleep, to follow John's example and let his eyes close.

He hovers, for a long moment, on the edge of full sleep, caught in the memory of the last time he did this, when John was hurt, breaking down and looking for comfort, safety. Watching John leave had hurt far more than Cam had expected, and seeing John again in Atlantis had hurt more. It's hard to match John now, laying out what he wants out of sex, taking control of their relationship, with that John. Hard to always remember that John doesn't need, now, what he needed from Cam then, and to let go of the urge to protect him in ways that John doesn't need and wants even less.

Finally tipping over into sleep, Cam thinks that maybe that's okay – that maybe they'll have the time, now, to figure out how to make this work. How to make it good.


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