blue flamingos

Age of Minority

Fandom: Stargate Atlantis/Stargate SG1

Category/Rated: Slash, NC-17

Year/Length: 2009/~14,000 words

Pairing: Cam/John, Sam Carter

Spoilers: set pre-SGA season 4, no major spoilers.

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

Warning: Short dub-con scene (Cam/OMC)

Summary: For the first couple of days, being unexpectedly sixteen again was actually kind of fun; of course, the fun part didn't last.

Prompt: Rapid deaging

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

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For the first couple of days, being unexpectedly sixteen again was actually kind of fun. Cam kept his memories this time, not like when he'd gotten turned into a five year old for three hours and had no memory of anything after the first time he was five, so there was no disorientation to go with the undeniable weirdness of looking – feeling – sixteen again. It was also a hell of a lot easier to appreciate the fact that he didn't have pins in his leg like this – apparently the Quizelri had actually reset their bodies to the way they were at sixteen, not just made them look that way.

Plus, this time, it wasn't just him; he had Sam along for the ride, both of them in uniforms that fit surprisingly well on their skinny sixteen year old bodies, confined to base after an argument with Landry that Cam suspected he'd find really humiliating when he was nearly forty again.

"We're adults, we can take care of ourselves," Sam had said, folding her arms over her chest in a move that Cam thought might be meant to hide her figure, or might just be defiance.

"Yeah," he'd said, hanging back. That, he'd discovering, was the weird part of being suddenly less than half his age: he remembered himself as a lieutenant colonel in the air force, leader of the number one gate team, with all the self-assurance that went with it, but as much as he thought he ought to be able to make himself be that person again, he'd gone right back to his vaguely shy teenage self.

"I'm the most well-qualified person on this base," Sam had added, because Sam, it seemed, had never gone through a shy teenage phase, or if she had, she'd grown out of it before she hit sixteen. It was going to make flipping back even weirder than Cam already knew it would be.

"You're barely legal to drive," Landry had pointed out. "As far as anyone off this base is concerned, you should be in school."

"I was taking college classes when I was sixteen," Sam had said.

Landry hadn't even blinked. "Well, Colonel Mitchell wasn't, and unless the two of you want to convince your neighbors that you are in fact your own stunningly similar looking long-distance cousins, you're staying on base until the rest of your team comes back with a way to return you to your normal, slightly less argumentative selves." He'd given them both what Cam had always thought of as his disapproving principal look, then added, "Now get out of my office."

"He's no fun," Sam had complained as they'd walk down the corridor together.

Cam had shaken his head in agreement. The only good thing about enforced downtime was the chance to watch movies and shoot penguins on his computer, and neither of those things were in his base quarters. "I'm bored," he'd added.

"Good," Carolyn's voice had said from behind them. When they'd turned around, she'd been grinning sadistically, and Cam would have bet she'd heard Sam criticize Landry. "Then you'll have plenty of time to come down to the infirmary while I run some tests on you."

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Jackson had insisted that they had to come right back to Earth when Cam and Sam had emerged from the Quizelri's temple aged sixteen, give or take, saying they couldn't have children on an off-world mission, for which Sam had kicked him in the shins. Cam had kind of seen his point, but it meant he hadn't known very much about how or why the Quizelri had done it, other than that they hadn't seemed all that impressed with Sam poking at their ancient holy relics.

Jackson, Teal'c and Vala had gone back to the planet with half of SG-2 while Cam and Sam were still being scanned, and though they were reporting in every few hours, Cam and Sam weren't allowed to hear any of the reports, which meant they'd been sixteen for two days and didn't know why.

"I'm just saying," Sam grumbled over red jello. "What are they going to do, make us sixteen? No, wait, they already did that."

"Lock us up. Or kill us."

Sam waved Cam's perfectly reasonable comment away. "They'd have done it already if they were going to."

"Unless they were annoyed with us for coming back."

Sam gave him a long, considering look until Cam looked down at his own half-eaten bowl of jello.

"I think I always assumed you'd been a much happier teenager than you're turning out to be," Sam said thoughtfully.

"I'm happy," Cam protested, since he was, mostly. Other than being stuck on base and not allowed to work, which said something truly depressing about his priorities. "I'm just being realistic."

"Okay: I always assumed you were more happy-go-lucky as a teenager," Sam corrected. "I guess you changed a lot in four years."

"I guess," Cam agreed. He wasn't ready to admit that the only change before they met in their early twenties had been his ability to fake confidence and happy-go-lucky self-assurance. The reality of it had come later, and for years he'd wondered if it was really real, or if he was just faking well enough to fool himself as well.

"This sucks," Sam said. "Can't go off-world, can't go into the lab, can't go to Area 51."

"There's always paperwork," Cam teased.

Sam threw her balled up napkin at his head. "I hate you," she said, grinning.

"No you don't," Cam said, grinning back and hoping he wasn't blushing. "I'm your best friend."

"Only because everyone else here is at least ten years older than me," Sam assured him. "Though I guess there could be worse people to be randomly de-aged with."

"Landry," Cam said immediately.

Sam shuddered. "Or Matheson. He's clumsy enough around me when we're both grown-ups. If he was sixteen as well, he'd probably accidentally shoot someone."

Cam hadn't thought Sam had noticed the young airman's crush on her, but apparently she'd gotten more observant of these things at some point and he was the one who hadn't noticed the change in her. "Teal'c."

"What's wrong with Teal'c?" Sam asked, immediately defensive. "I thought you two were friends."

"We are," Cam said. "I just don't think he was probably much fun as a teenager, with that whole training to be a warrior for the Goa'uld thing."

"Yeah, but sixteen for the Jaffa is like a little kid to us. I bet he was loads of fun, always getting into trouble and stuff."

Cam still couldn't imagine it. "Maybe," he said, mostly to appease Sam.

"Not like you," she teased, smiling. "I bet you were a really serious kid."

"Sort of," Cam hedged. He'd gotten into his fair share of trouble, but somehow it hadn't seemed right to be really disruptive after his dad's accident. Another thing he didn't want to talk about.

"Sort of, right." Sam piled their dishes onto her tray and stood up. "Come on. We're off duty, there's got to be some fun to be had in this place."

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Sam's idea of fun turned out to be scamming purple hair dye off one of the young social scientists and giving both of them purple streaks that Cam had to admit did look kind of cool, though more on her than him, since she had long enough hair for the full effect.

"I think you need eye liner for it to really work," she said, tilting her head to one side to look at him.

"I think I don't want to be fired when I'm old enough again for them to fire me," he said firmly. "What next?"

Since even Sam understood that they would one day in the not that distant future go back to being full grown adults with serious jobs, they were pretty limited in what they could do. Someone had clearly briefed the people guarding the labs, because even their combined one-day-soon-I'll-be-your-superior-officer-again glares didn't get them in.

They also didn't get them into the gate room, the control room, or the room right at the bottom of the mountain where they were building a 302/puddle jumper hybrid.

"They really know how to take the fun out of life around here," Sam complained.

"They really do," Cam agreed, but they ended up in Vala's quarters playing Guitar Hero on her X-Box and mocking each other and, honestly, he thought there were much worse ways for the evening to have ended up.

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Jackson, Teal'c and Vala came home right after lunch the next day, though Cam and Sam, being good and writing their mission reports in Cam's office, didn't know it until mid-afternoon when an airman Cam didn't recognize came to walk them to the conference room.

He knew it wasn't good the moment they walked in the door, and Sam knew it too, judging from how she reached for his hand under the table when they sat down. He suddenly felt exactly as old as he was, which was to say, not old enough for whatever news Jackson and co had that made them look at him and Sam the way they were.

"Glad you kept them from re-teenagering anyone else," Cam said, trying to make a joke. "Unless – should we be worried that SG-2 aren't here?"

"We thought you might prefer it if they weren't," Landry said gently. Cam had never heard him be gentle before, no matter how bad things had gotten. No-one had even mentioned the fact that they had purple streaks in their hair.

"In case we fall over when you do whatever you're going to do to re-age us?" Cam asked. He sounded like he was grasping at straws, not good enough at hiding it with this voice.

Jackson and Landry looked at each other. Vala looked down at her hands, and Teal'c looked at Cam and Sam, steady and unwavering. Cam squeezed Sam's hand, her fingers cold in his.

"They say it's done as a punishment," Jackson said finally, not quite looking at the two of them. "To remind people of how they should behave. It usually wears off after a couple of days. They can't understand why it hasn't for you."

"That's..." Sam trailed off, shook her hair back from her face. "Maybe it'll just take longer for us, because we're from Earth, not their planet."

"Perhaps," Teal'c said. "There may be no cause for alarm yet."

That was the nice thing about Teal'c, Cam thought. He never sounded like he was lying, even when he was.

"Dr Jackson and the anthropologists from SG-9 are going back to the planet to find out some more about how exactly this happened," Landry put in. "In the mean time, the two of you are to stay on base."

"Yes, sir," Sam said, and Cam echoed her, well aware he was almost too quiet to be heard.

Vala came round the table as everyone was filing out – Teal'c, it seemed, was going with the team back to Quizel – and stopped close to them, her head down.

"Vala?" Sam asked.

Vala looked up, her eyes wide and bright. "It'll be okay," she said firmly. "I promise." And as if that hadn't been enough to set Cam's few remaining unringing alarm bells to ringing, the way she hugged both of them, hard and tight, was more than enough to do it.

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When he went back to his office, there were a handful of emails from Atlantis in his inbox – the data burst must have come in. He scrolled through them quickly: an official report that he'd been copied into for no reason he could see, one from Lorne, gossip and teasing and reassurance, one from Lieutenant Green, who'd kept in touch with him since she went out three months ago, one from an anthropologist who wanted to check something in a reference he'd found to the Sodan, and one from John.

Which was, Cam would happily admit, the only one he was really interested in.

It was a typical John email, obviously written in fits and starts over the course of the week, bits of things that were obviously answers to an email Cam had sent him two weeks ago, stuff that barely made sense now. Most of it wasn't anything more than friendly, and even the stuff that was, Cam knew he was the only person who knew how to read it.

He wondered if that would fade, after a while. If he'd lose the sense of himself as part of him and John, the same way he'd lost his adult confidence.

Maybe it would still all turn out to be a joke. A funny story for next week's email to John: so, did I tell you about when Sam and I got to relive our teenage years for a week?

Somehow, he didn't think so.

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No-one was surprised when Jackson and the anthropologists came home shaking their heads.

"It's an incantation," Jackson explained over the conference table. Cam wanted to reach for Sam's hand again, but they were both sitting with their hands neatly on the table, the purple washed out of their hair. Professionals, even if they were professionals who weren't old enough to vote. "They demonstrated it on two of the villagers, it wore off after a couple of days."

"Don't they have some incantation to reverse it?" Sam asked. No-one said anything about how she wasn't wanting to know what the science behind the incantation was.

"They've never had to," Jackson said, apologetic. "You're the only two it's never worn off for. They're really sorry. Two of their leading researchers are searching their archives for some kind of – for a way to reverse it." He didn't sound hopeful. Cam didn't blame him – he'd seen the Quizelri's archives, and they made under-funded public school libraries look well stocked. If there was anything, they'd probably have found it already.

"What happens to us?" Sam asked, voice gone small.

Landry looked at them both, all commander, no fatherly at all. "Let's give the Quizelri a few days to work first," he said firmly, and Cam didn't have the heart to argue.

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They ended up, just the two of them, in Sam's quarters, sitting together against the foot of her bed, which they never would have otherwise, most of the lights turned off.

"What do you think the SGC will do to us?" Cam asked, drawing his knees up so he could rest his chin on them.

Sam's shoulder twitched up in a shrug. "They sent Jack's clone back to high school."

Cam knew they didn't have it as bad – they'd been younger than Jack to start with, and they weren't their older selves trapped in younger bodies – but the thought of having to start again made him shudder. "Do you think they would us?"

Sam shrugged again. "We're different. I mean, we're the real us, there aren't original versions of us running around as well. And it didn't go very well with Jack's clone."

Cam had never asked; the files were above even his security clearance. Sam clearly knew, but he was suddenly sure he didn't want to know. "But probably we couldn't stay here," he said, not sure if he was asking or not.

"Probably not," Sam said. She was quiet for a minute, then shuffled a little close and rested her head on his shoulder.

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Apparently, the idea came from Jackson, or at least that was what the grapevine said. There'd been an argument about the ethics of just sending them out into the world, or making them redo all their qualifications, when they still remembered the content, and Landry had declared that they could hardly stay at the SGC.

"Atlantis?" Cam said, when Landry put it to the two of them. He couldn't look at Sam, not sure what she knew, or might read on his face.

"I'm sure Dr McKay would be grateful for Samantha – Colonel Carter's – expertise in the labs," Landry said. He wasn't the only one who'd started defaulting to their names over the last few days, though at least everyone still corrected themselves. Cam wasn't looking forward to that stopping.

"I'm not a scientist," he said quietly.

"I know that," Landry said. "But you're a pilot, assuming the gene therapy takes for you, and not without practical skills."

Cam didn't need a translation for that – he'd be the scientists' dogsbody, unless he could convince John that he should be put on a gate team, or attached to the marines. He pushed the thought away, then went back to it. "What did Dr Weir and Colonel Sheppard say?"

He caught Sam turning to look at him from the corner of his eye, and looked away.

"They're amenable to the idea," Landry said, which Cam figured meant they'd given in less than gracefully, or been forced to.

And also meant that John knew.

"I'm not trying to tell either of you what to do," Landry said. "If you'd rather stay on Earth, we can arrange that. You'd have to sever all contact with the program, except for a contact person, until you were eighteen."

Cam looked over, found Sam looking at him, her decision on her face. "What about –" he started, and had to clear his throat. "What will you tell everyone on Earth? Our families?"

"You'll be reported to them as missing in action, presumed killed. Whichever path you choose."

Cam thought about being on Earth, being close enough to get on a plane and go visit his parents or his brother and not being able to because they'd never believe he wasn't who he was. He tried not to think that Sam was lucky, only her brother and Cassie left, and they were Cassie's age now, give or take. "Okay," he said. "If Sam wants to – we'll go."

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Landry sent someone to their apartments to pack them up, since it was kind of risky to send them, and also because the SGC seemed disinclined to let them out of the mountain, ever, as though they were worried that the two of them might cut and run. Sam went to pack up some of her things in the lab, which she was allowed to take, since she was going in an actual role. Cam wasn't even allowed to take his nine millimeter, which was pretty ridiculous, since he'd almost certainly be issued a new one once he got to Atlantis.

It meant he didn't have much packing to do, and so when someone knocked at his door, he was sitting on his bed staring at his empty hands. He thought about not answering, or telling them to go away, but he was about to leave the galaxy he'd lived in for nearly forty years, possibly forever. The least he could do was say goodbye to the people he could say goodbye to.

His visitor turned out to be Teal'c, which was better than most of his options. "Colonel Mitchell," he said, inclining his head slightly.

"Not any more." They'd both been given new paperwork that morning – same names, since neither of them exactly had uncommon names, and even the same qualifications for Sam, now legally a child prodigy. "You want to come in?"

Teal'c stepped inside, and watched Cam sit down again. "Do not lose hope. We will continue to search for a cure."

"Thanks," Cam said, trying to smile. People kept saying that, until he was starting to feel like it might be easier if they just told him he was stuck like this, until he grew up again. "Did Landry say who's going to take over SG1?"

"He did not." Teal'c came and sat next to Cam, who felt suddenly very small, even though he was only a couple of inches shorter like this. "I believe he is struggling to find someone he considers a worthy replacement for the two of you."

Cam nodded, looking down, horrified to feel his throat closing up. "I don't want to go," he said quietly. It wasn't like he had any dignity left to lose, now.

"You have done other things that were harder," Teal'c said.

"Not any more," Cam said again. "I'm not him any more."

"You will always be him," Teal'c said firmly. "Just as Colonel Carter will always be herself."

Cam took a very shaky breath. He wasn't going to cry – he was thirty-nine, or sixteen, or whatever, and he wasn't going to cry. "You'll visit, right?" he asked, hoping Teal'c would ignore the tremor in his voice.

"Often," Teal'c said, warm and certain, almost enough for Cam to believe him.

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They were supposed to dial in to the midway station late afternoon, so Cam went to find Sam at a little past four. She was in her office, a pad of paper on the desk in front of her. "What you doing?" he asked.

She looked up, startled, then laughed. "I was trying to re-write my goodbye letters to Mark and Cassie. Except I keep trying to write stuff in so they'll guess that I'm not really dead."

Cam didn't say that, as far as their families were concerned, they *were* dead, that neither of them would ever see their families again. He thought it was partly because he'd tried to do the same thing, and had the same problem. "Dial in's soon," he said instead.

Sam nodded and put her notepad into the desk drawer. When she looked up, her face was troubled. "I feel like I pressured you into this," she said.

Cam shrugged. "Couldn't let you go off to another galaxy without backup," he said, pretty much failing to hit light-hearted, if Sam's face was anything to go by.

"What about John?" Sam asked, which answered the question of whether she knew. It was worrying, for a minute, since he didn't know where he'd slipped up, until he remembered that it didn't matter any more.

"I think the Air Force would frown on him being involved with a guy who isn't even legal," he said, not even sure which part he was bitter about.

"Cam..."

"I don't want to talk about it." Which was made even worse by knowing that he'd have to, later, with John, who was still the worst person at talking about things of anyone Cam knew.

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When they stepped into Atlantis, Dr Weir came down the stairs to meet them, smiling like it wasn't at all weird to have two sixteen year old ex-gate team members coming to her city.

"Dr Carter, Mr. Mitchell," she said, and only winced a little, which Cam couldn't exactly blame her for. Carter's name sounded okay; his sounded ridiculous. "Welcome back to Atlantis."

"Thanks," Sam said brightly, already looking around. Nothing dampened Sam's scientific curiosity for long. "Um, you should just call me Sam, though. Dr Carter doesn't sound right any more."

"All right. Sam." Weir looked at Cam, and he nodded his consent. "We've assigned a couple of people to act as guides for your first couple of days, so you don't get lost." She nodded to a couple of marines Cam didn't recognize, who didn't look much older than him and Sam. "Colonel Sheppard and Dr McKay intended to be here to welcome you, but they've been delayed off-world." She handed over two radio ear pieces. "Major Lorne's tied up with something, but he'll radio you when he's free, and go over some of the things you need to know."

Sam was already fitting on her ear piece. It shouldn't have made her look like she belonged there, since she, like Cam, was still in her blue uniform, but somehow it did. He wanted, stupidly, to reach for her hand, make sure she didn't go on without him.

"I'll let the two of you get settled," Weir said, still smiling. "My door's always open if you need me."

"Thanks," Cam said, shifting his duffel on his shoulder.

The two marines took Weir's place as she stepped back, one of them bending down to pick up Sam's case. She did a little double-take. "I can take that," she said.

"It's no problem, ma'am," the marine said, grinning at her, and Cam realized with a vague sense of horror that he was attracted to Sam. Which wasn't all that weird, except for the way he was smiling at her, like he thought he had a chance or something. He wondered how many people in the city knew who they were.

"Um, thank you," Sam said.

The other marine rolled his eyes, stopped when he caught Cam looking at him, then shrugged a little. "This way. PFC Rob Morris, this one's PFC Charlie Wilson."

"Cameron Mitchell."

Wilson had sped up a little, so he was ahead of them, Sam speeding up with him. Cam was pretty sure things between her and O'Neill were over, if they'd ever really gotten started, but it was still weird to imagine her dating a nineteen year old.

"Good to meet you," Morris said, still grinning. He probably fit right in with John's marines, who had a tendency to be freakishly cheerful for a group of people at constant war with the wraith. "Makes a change not to be the youngest person in the city."

Cam felt his briefly brightened mood darken again. "Yeah."

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Cam was expecting Morris again when someone sounded the chime at his door an hour after the marines had left the two of them to unpack. Instead, it was Major Lorne.

"Oh," Cam said stupidly.

Lorne shifted awkwardly, but his smile was sympathetic. "Mitchell."

"Hey," Cam said, not sure what else to say.

Lorne looked like he was having the same problem, which was kind of unnerving, considering how well they'd always gotten along. He looked at Cam for a long moment, then reached out and rubbed his shoulder. "I'm sorry," he said.

Cam ducked his head, looked away. "Thanks."

"Is it better if I don't say maybe someone will be able to fix it?" Lorne asked. Cam nodded. "Sheppard's –" Cam shook his head. Lorne knew about them, since they both trusted him, and John was often a reckless idiot who did his best to send Cam into a nervous breakdown, but that still didn't make this something Cam wanted to talk about. "Okay," Lorne said quietly. "Let's get Carter and we'll talk."

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Cam heard the announcement that John's team were back in his radio ear piece, late in the evening. Carter was down in the lab, learning her way around and Lorne was working, which meant he didn't have any excuse not to go looking for John, get the conversation over with.

He stayed where he was, staring at the skyline of Atlantis in the dark from his window. He pretty much knew what the outcome would be, without the conversation, because he was sixteen, *felt* sixteen, a little more every day, and he wondered how long it would be until he woke up feeling like the last twenty real years had been a dream, until he couldn't remember how it had felt to be twenty, thirty, thirty-five. Nothing said 'it's over' quite like being de-aged to a teenager, and John had to know it as well.

Cam just didn't want to actually do it, not now, when they'd finally managed to turn a ten-year long string of one-night stands into something that might actually have been going somewhere, even after John and the others took Atlantis back. He'd already given up everything else; he didn't want to give that up as well.

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Sam came to his quarters before breakfast, dressed in an Atlantis uniform, with blue science team panels. She rolled her eyes when she saw Cam still in his blue BDUs. "You stand out more than the wraith," she said firmly, nudging him back into the room. "Get changed."

Cam bit down on the urge to say that he didn't want to – he hated that Sam seemed to be adjusting to this so well, so much better than he was, and he didn't need to do anything to further that feeling. "Not while you're watching."

"Oh please, like I haven't seen it all before," Sam said, turning her back anyway.

Cam hesitated, his shirt half open. "When?"

"A girl's got to have some secrets," Sam said primly, sounding so like Vala it made Cam's throat hurt. "Get changed already."

Cam rolled his eyes at her back, sure she'd know he was doing it, and got changed.

Sam looked at him for a long moment when she turned around, then shook herself a little. Cam could sympathize – he'd just about gotten used to her being sixteen, but she didn't look right in Atlantis gray. "Green panels," she said, gesturing at his jacket. "That's different."

It signified, Cam knew, that he was support staff of one kind or another, though mostly only the gate-room staff, which he wouldn't be, wore it.

"It's just because they don't have a color for 'not actually sure what we're going to do with him'," he said, tugging his jacket straight awkwardly.

"Cam," Sam said softly.

"It's fine," Cam said. "Come on, let's get breakfast."

Sam hesitated, then nodded. "I was looking through the database last night," she said, following Cam out into the corridors. "I think there might be some stuff in there about making ZPMs. McKay thinks I'm crazy, but I'm pretty sure he's just jealous."

She kept up the science chatter most of the way, even when Cam was reduced to saying uh-huh a lot, but she trailed off as they got close to the mess, then laughed a little, sounding sheepish. "I hate this part."

"Me, too," Cam said. "Want me to hold your hand?"

"Yes, but it's probably not a good idea."

Cam nodded. "Let's get it over with."

It wasn't as bad as he'd imagined: no-one stopped and stared at them; most people ignored them after a cursory glance, even the ones who'd met them before and knew who they were. Their two marine guides, who'd disappeared the evening before after saying to radio if they got lost, both looked up and nodded to them as they got into line.

There was no sign of John, or his team.

"Wilson's got a crush on you," Cam said, low into Sam's ear, trying to cover up the rush of relief he felt.

Sam tucked her hair back behind her ear, smiling. "Smart women are hot."

Cam wasn't touching that one with a ten foot pole. "He's too young for you."

"Actually, I'm too young for him," Sam said, her smile fading.

Cam put a bottle of orange juice on her tray. "Good. What kind of self-respecting woman dates a marine?"

They took a table in the corner, and Cam sat with his back to the room, because it made Sam nervous not to be able to see what was coming. Him too, but he was better at it than she was, or else she just let him indulge the urge to be protective of her.

"We should email the others," Sam said, buttering her toast. "Let them know we're okay."

Cam nodded, sipping his coffee, even though it didn't taste right any more. He'd learned to like it at the Academy, first time round. "Shame you can't buy postcards here."

Sam smiled. "I can just see the –" she started, then stopped, looking over Cam's shoulder.

When she didn't say anything, Cam turned as well, to find himself face to face with John, who looked like he was standing there under extreme duress. Possibly because the rest of his team were sitting together on the balcony and studiously not watching him, where Cam hadn't been able to see them before.

"We need to talk," John said, not quite looking at Cam. "Meet me in my office in ten minutes."

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Cam was early, even though he'd wanted to linger, make himself late, put it off, but John was already there, leaning on the edge of his desk, looking down at the floor. He looked tired, like Cam felt, and Cam wanted, again, to turn around, go back and not have the conversation he knew they had to have.

He knocked the door frame instead, softly, and John looked up. "Come in. Close the door."

Cam did, and ended up standing awkwardly in front of him, half wanting to go into proper military posture, more than half wanting to go over and touch John. Last time, they'd said goodbye in his apartment, before John went off to the SGC to go back to Atlantis, standing together in the sun with their arms around each other, and Cam remembered how it had felt, the same way he remembered how it felt to dream of having wings and flying, something impossibly unreal.

"I'm sorry," he said, when it became clear John wasn't going to say anything. "I didn't ask to come here. I wanted to tell you what happened, but I kept hoping they'd figure out a way to reverse it. I'm sorry –"

"Stop," John said quietly. He'd stopped looking at Cam again, not that Cam could blame him. "Just – it's not your fault."

"I'm still sorry," Cam said, because he was, more sorry than he'd ever be able to put into words, for all of it.

"I know," John said. "Look, I know you know this, but –" He made a vague gesture between the two of them. "It has to be over."

It hurt way more than it had any right to, when Cam had known it was coming. He nodded, not wanting to say anything. Not sure what to say.

"I don't –" John looked up then, and Cam had to look away, because John looked like he was hurting just as much and that just made it all worse.

"I wish none of this was happening," Cam said into the silence.

John moved, like he'd thought about reaching for Cam and changed his mind. It was probably a good thing, no matter how much Cam wanted it. "Me too," John said. "I think you should probably go."

Cam nodded, his throat tight. He wanted to make some kind of gesture, wanted to tell John that, even sixteen, he was still in love with John, not just a faded memory of how he'd felt before, but now, like this.

He wanted to ask if John was still in love with him, with this him as well as the other one, except he was afraid of what the answer might be.

There didn't seem to be anything else to say, so he did as John had asked, and left, even touching the sensor to close the door behind himself.

He kept his head down, walking away, not wanting anyone to see his face and wonder why he looked like he was one deep breath away from bursting into tears, not so close to John's office. People stepped around him easily enough, and he let himself slip into automatic pilot, sliding through the voices and the footsteps until suddenly there was a hand on his arm, stopping him.

He looked up, expecting Lorne, and found Rob Morris instead, looking at him with a worried frown. "Cameron? Are you all right?"

Cam nodded, still not trusting himself to speak.

Rob drew him a couple of feet away, out of the main stream of traffic, and didn't let go of his arm. "Are you sure? Has something happened?"

Cam shook his head. "Rough morning," he offered, the words coming out too quiet.

Rob was silent for a moment, then let go of his arm. "You're supposed to be reporting to Dr Beckett for the gene therapy, right?" he asked. Cam nodded. "Okay, so I'll ask Major Lorne if you can do it tomorrow. He said to be nice to you guys."

Cam could imagine Lorne saying exactly that, and it made him feel a bit better.

"Can you find your way back to your quarters?" Cam nodded again, and Rob touched his shoulder. "I'll come by at lunch, okay?"

Cam nodded, waited for Rob to take his hand back, and kept going, not looking up.

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After a couple of weeks, it got to be mostly bearable. He hardly saw John, which made it easier, or should have done, except for how he was in John's city, and everything made him think of John. The gene therapy took, so he got to fly the jumpers, mostly on supply runs to the mainland with scientists who ignored him, and it wasn't 302s over Antarctica, or SG1, but it was something. He and Sam still had breakfast together every morning, which Cam was grateful for every day, watching her turn into a pure scientist and waiting for the day she drifted too far away from him.

And Rob, having apparently decided that Cam needed someone to look out for him, kept dragging him along to things with the other young marines: football games from the Daedalus, video game tournaments, basketball in the huge room at the bottom of tower three.

Which was how Cam ended up in the infirmary, his head bleeding through the towel he was holding to the gash, Rob hovering like he thought Cam was going to faint.

A young blond woman in the medical staff's yellow-paneled jacket came out of the office when Rob called, pulling on gloves and frowning.

"Don't tell me," she said, pointing Cam to a gurney, "You were sparring and it got out of hand."

"Substitute basketball for sparring and you're pretty close," Cam agreed.

She sighed. "I knew I should have listened to Dr Lam when she said I'd regret working with marines."

"I'm not a marine," Cam said, not for the first time.

"But we're working on it," Rob added, also not for the first time.

The doctor looked at him. "Well, you'll have to work on him another time. I don't need an audience."

Rob patted Cam's shoulder. "You okay, man?" Cam nodded. "Okay. Talk to you later."

The doctor watched him go until he was out of the infirmary, then looked back at Cam. "You're Colonel Mitchell, aren't you?"

Cam tried not to wince at the title. "Just Cameron. Cam."

"Cam." The doctor smiled, and it made her look even younger. "I thought so. Carolyn mentioned that you and Dr Carter are new here as well. I'm Dr Keller. Jennifer."

Cam reached out to shake her hand before he remembered she was wearing gloves. "Pleasure to meet you."

"You too," Jennifer said, lifting the towel away from his head. "Though I was hoping not to do it while you were bleeding all over the place."

"Sorry," Cam said. "When did you get here?"

Jennifer poked around the cut, the reached for the antiseptic. "This is going to need stitches. On the Daedalus a couple of days ago, to work with Dr Beckett. I was at the SGC for a while before that, but I don't think we met."

"No." Cam had tried, at first, to meet everyone in the Mountain, but there were too many people and staff turnover was too high, and he'd given it up after a little over a month. He hadn't even bothered trying on Atlantis.

"Better late then never," Jennifer said, then, "Let me numb this, hold still."

She reached for a needle, and Cam closed his eyes, suddenly squeamish. Jennifer smoothed his hair back, and left her hand there as she injected the anesthetic. Cam closed his eyes tighter, trying not to lean into it, flooded with the sense memory of his mom doing the same thing. They had to have been told by now. He wondered if they'd had the funeral. If they would, or if they'd keep on hoping.

"You might like to keep your eyes closed," Jennifer said quietly. "Unless you want to watch me wave a needle about near your eye."

Cam laughed, watery and strained, and Jennifer touched his cheek with her gloved hand, and said, "It's okay," softly.

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Jennifer let him go with a gauze pad over the stitches and instructions to go back in a couple of days so she could check on him, and Cam wandered out into the evening quiet of the city. He was already starting to get used to Atlantis' rhythm, the way it got quiet for a couple of hours then started buzzing again in the run up to midnight, full of night owls and insomniacs. It was kind of nice, feeling part of it, even if he knew he wasn't, not really. Even if Sam could, he couldn't stay in Atlantis forever, floating around with nothing much to do, waiting for something to change.

When he turned the corner, John was coming the other way, wearing jeans and a black fleece, obviously off-duty, looking worried, hurrying. It took him a couple of seconds to see Cam, even in the empty corridor, so that when he looked up and stopped, he was almost close enough to touch. Closer than he'd been to Cam in weeks.

"What's wrong?" Cam asked.

John blinked, kept looking at him, his face unreadable under the concern, and then he let out a breath that sounded relieved. "I heard you were in the infirmary," he said.

"I'm fine," Cam said automatically, not sure what else to say in the face of John's obvious worry for him, the warmth of the connection that hadn't faded away.

"Yeah." John took a step towards him, not quite enough to be too close, but right on the edge of it, until Cam thought he could feel John's body heat. It felt so familiar, like Jennifer's hand on his forehead but a thousand times stronger, and he wanted to step into it, let John touch the bandage and say something worried and fond... Except John was twice his age now, more, and how would it look, to someone who didn't know? To someone who did?

John seemed to come to the realization at the same moment, because he reversed the step forward that he'd taken, his expression blanking out. "Good to see you're okay," he said, all the worry and warmth and care gone from his voice, and Cam tried not to shiver with the loss.

"Thanks for coming to check," he said.

John nodded, back to not quite looking at him. "I think Carter's looking for you," he said.

"Thanks," Cam said again, and turned to take a different corridor, towards the labs, so that he wouldn't have to watch John walk away.

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Cam wasn't really sure why he kept dropping by the infirmary, even after Jennifer declared him fit and healthy with no ill effects from being knocked about the head. He had a lot of free time, a lot more than he should have had, and most of the things that he used to do to fill it weren't available on Atlantis. Not that he'd had a lot of free time, since joining SG1, and maybe that was his problem, that he was used to being busy and important and now he was neither.

So he kept going by the infirmary instead, seeking out Jennifer in her office, where she'd pour them both coffee that Cam still didn't really like the taste of, and tell him stories from med school, or sometimes, late at night when everyone else in the place was asleep, about weird cases from the SGC, or from Atlantis, swearing him to secrecy with a gleeful, guilty look. After a while, she started giving him stuff to do while he was there: making up the little packs she gave to people with minor injuries, or stock-checking, and, after he helped out when she needed a spare pair of hands, minor stuff with actual patients, while she stood next to him and made sure he was doing it right. Cam kept expecting someone to come along and tell him to stop, but no-one did. Jennifer called him her med student, and made him retake all the field medicine he'd done before, then gave him books for more advanced stuff. He didn't ask Jennifer if she'd gotten permission; he thought maybe she liked having him around, someone close to her age, and at least he felt like he was doing something, even if he wasn't entirely sure that he wanted to be on the road Jennifer had put him on.

Whatever the reason, she let him keep sticking around, which was why he spent all day one Friday helping her and two nurses to vaccinate everyone in the city against a particularly virulent form of space flu that Stackhouse's team had brought back with them from their last mission. And why he didn't realize, until it was late and dark, and Jennifer had gone to Sergeant Li's quarters to check on her recovery, leaving Cam alone to finish tidying up, that the low hum of voices he'd been hearing for a while were John and Teyla.

He hesitated, box of unused medical wipes in one hand, trying to hear what they were saying. They didn't sound hurt or impatient, but Dr Biro, the other doctor on call with Jennifer, had run down to the mess for dinner, and Cam would have to call her back if John or Teyla needed medical attention.

He put the box down and crept towards the door into the main infirmary. He hadn't spoken to John since he'd hit his head, had barely even seen him, and didn't want to. It was easier to pretend that it didn't still hurt if he didn't have to see John and be reminded.

The lights had been lowered, and at first all Cam could make out was the vague shapes of Teyla's and John's bodies, sitting so close together that they barely looked like two people. They had their backs to him, facing an infirmary bed. Cam squinted, just enough to make out another person, unmoving in the bed, the outline long enough that it had to be Ronon. Beckett must have treated him before he left for the night.

Cam was half-turning to leave them to it – they clearly didn't need any medical attention for themselves, were just sitting vigil – when he picked up John's voice, maybe raised slightly, enough for Cam to hear the end of what he was saying: "- think he has a crush on Dr Keller."

That was enough to stop Cam, because Jennifer was nice, and if there was someone out there who liked her, she deserved to know.

"I do not believe so," Teyla said, voice still hushed, the words easier to make out now that Cam was properly paying attention. "I am sure that they are just friends."

Jennifer had plenty of friends in the city, even a handful of good ones, and Cam couldn't imagine any of them being interested in her, or the reverse. They were *friends*, that was it.

"He spends more time with her than anyone else," John said, and this time, Cam picked up a little more of his tone, the hurt that he'd nearly buried. It made Cam's stomach plummet, suddenly sure that he knew who they were talking about.

"You spend much time with us, that does not signify anything more than friendship," Teyla said, mildly rebuking. "And I would not be so quick to assume that everything has changed because he has."

Cam closed his eyes for a moment, as though that would block out her voice, frozen where he stood.

"I –" John said, and the shadowed outline of him dropped his head in a gesture Cam recognized as him giving in to having to talk about something he didn't want to. "I used to wish... And now he's here and he's sixteen years old."

"You did not do this, John," Teyla said.

"It feels like he's dead," John said, his voice cracking. Cam curled his hands into fists, so tight it hurt, and tried not to imagine that, tried not to think that John had been walking around for months hurting the same way he was, not telling anyone. At least Cam had Sam, and maybe they didn't talk about it, but she knew. He'd always assumed that John had his team, but maybe not, or not the way Cam had thought. "And every time I see him, it's like – remembering all over again that he's not but he might as well be."

"You are allowed to grieve," Teyla said, her hand moving to John's arm. "Even if he is not dead, you have still lost something. Both of you, and Dr Carter as well."

"I wish," John started, then trailed into a long silence. When he broke it, he sounded utterly defeated. "He's lost everything. He's just a teenager, and he's lost everything." And he didn't say the rest, but Cam heard it, or hoped he heard it, anyway: I wish I could help him.

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Cam's mom always used to say eavesdroppers never hear anything good about themselves and while that wasn't strictly true in this case, it was true in the spirit at least, because he wished he'd never listened in, never heard John hurting. He'd always, always been able to do something, before, even if it wasn't a hell of a lot from another galaxy, and now it was like his old self's feelings had combined with his own feelings, made them more. Made his helplessness more, because even if he could go to John and offer comfort, that would just make it worse, for both of them.

He dreamed about John, exiled from Atlantis, drinking coffee in Cam's kitchen and looking frail and tired. A nothing moment that he knew was real, but when he woke up, it felt like a dream, like a real dream of something untrue.

"You look exhausted," Sam said when she came by to get him for breakfast. "I thought I was the only one still pulling all nighters."

Cam smiled, aware that it probably didn't do much to dispel her image of him. "Couldn't sleep," he said, palming his door closed and falling into step with her.

He felt her looking at him for a moment, then she said, quietly, "I dream about Cassie. I think they might have told her the truth, and I think that I could go home and see her, but when I dream about her, I wake up and I can't remember if she's real or not."

Cam nodded, not trusting his voice on the truth. He wondered if, ten years from now, his past – his real past, his grown-up past – would seem like nothing more than a dream, or if they'd lose it, eventually, if this was a stage on the way to forgetting that they'd had other lives.

He wondered what it said about him that he sometimes wished for that to be the case, so that he could forget all the things that it hurt to remember.

"Do you think you'll stay here?" he asked instead.

"I don't know," Sam said. "I haven't thought about it. Will you?"

Cam shrugged. "I think I might like to go to college," he said. Not to the air force again. Even if he'd half-forgotten what happened to him while he was in, he didn't want to live that life over again, knowing that he'd already done the most amazing things the air force would ever be able to offer him. Knowing the limits that being in would put on him, how much he'd sometimes wish that he'd made different choices, even if those choices would have meant never having the things he didn't want to deny.

"Yeah?" Sam asked. "But not yet, right?"

It hung between them for a second, the suggestion that, if they just waited long enough, someone might fix this. Cam figured he could give it two years – a little less, now. Two years was long enough to give up hoping.

"No. Not yet."

"Good," Sam said, joining the end of the line for breakfast. "You're not allowed to leave me alone with McKay until I've beaten him into submission with my superior intellect."

She sounded like she was quoting someone, though Cam couldn't figure out who. He nodded instead. "Okay. But I'm not helping you hide the body."

Sam turned to grin at him, looking for a moment exactly like her old self. "I don't want to kill him. Just leave him cowering in the corner."

"Oh, well, as long as you only want to totally crush his spirit..." Cam said dryly. He turned around to look for a seat, and saw Jennifer trying to catch his eye, waving. "Sit with Jennifer?"

"Sure," Sam said.

When they got there, Lorne and Katie Brown had joined Jennifer, shifting their seats to make room. Cam ended up sat next to Lorne, who gave him a brief smile.

"Are you coming to the infirmary this morning?" Jennifer asked Cam, swirling her spoon through a bowl of oatmeal.

Cam glanced over at Katie, who nodded permission – he'd been doing some stuff for botany for the last few days. "Actually," Katie said, turning to Jennifer, "I was hoping you could come to the labs, I've got another batch of ferns to test..."

"Hey," Lorne said softly, under their conversation. When Cam looked at him, Lorne's face was worried. "Everything okay?"

Cam wanted to tell the truth, say no, but there was so much that went with saying no that he couldn't, even to Lorne. "Everything's fine," he lied, and knew he needn't have bothered when Lorne shook his head, still frowning, still worried.

"I wouldn't," Lorne said, then changed it to, "Anything you tell me would be in confidence."

"I know," Cam said, touched, but wanting the conversation over. "I'm sorry."

It must have been the right – wrong – thing to say, because it made Lorne shake his head again, more sad now than worried, but go back to buttering his toast.

Cam poked at his scrambled eggs, and wished he was anywhere else.

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He'd thought he was adjusting, more or less – not like Sam, who barely seemed to notice, most days, that she was sixteen and not an air force officer, but adjusting. He couldn't get John's voice out of his head though, even more so than before. Couldn't seem to stop dreaming about him, about what he still thought of as his real life, and wanted to stop thinking of that way.

He tried to spend more time with the young marines, Rob and his friends, where they treated him like the person he was supposed to be, made it easier to pretend. Rob especially, who was, out of all of them, more like a friend, and Rob didn't seem to mind that Cam was around more.

Seemed to welcome it, in fact, coming by Cam's quarters some evenings to persuade him to join in with whatever they were doing, and, a couple of times, coming by on his own, with a DVD or a computer game to play on Cam's laptop, which was, apparently, far superior to Rob's.

Cam thought, later, that he should have seen it coming. Would have seen it coming, if he hadn't been thinking about John so much, if he'd been sleeping better, if he didn't still half see Rob as a kid too young for him. But he didn't see it, not until Rob, sitting beside Cam on his bed, turned off the end credits, and leaned over Cam, and kissed him.

Cam didn't have any memories of being kissed at sixteen, when he'd been too shy, too caught up in Amy Vandenburg, to kiss anyone. Even with twenty years of experience after that, he didn't know what to do with his hands, and couldn't seem to keep his eyes closed, kept flicking them open to the harsh-seeming light of his quarters, and Rob's face too close.

He didn't say anything, didn't pull away, and so Rob kept going, pressing him down onto the bed and straddling him, still kissing him, already hard against Cam's thigh. He didn't say anything when Rob undressed them both, running his hands over Cam's shivering body and murmuring, "It's okay, it's okay," into his skin, and when Rob sat back, helped Cam over onto his stomach and said, "Is this okay?" he nodded, because he knew that was what came next, and he didn't know what the real answer was, and maybe it would be easier than remembering and wanting.

Rob was nineteen and horny and impatient, and it hurt when he pushed into Cam, though not as much as Cam had thought it might. More than it had for a while, and for much longer than it had for more than a while. Cam still came, Rob's hand on him, shuddering so hard he felt his teeth chattering.

Rob left after a while, with a parting kiss to Cam's shoulder. Cam, curled up a little on his side, thought Rob assumed he was asleep, and didn't bother to correct the misassumption. He waited, until he was so cold he was shivering, then forced himself to move enough to pull the bedclothes over his still naked body, over his head, and lay there, eyes closed but wide awake.

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He was still lying there the next morning when Sam, having apparently grown impatient with Cam's failure to answer the door, and having never met an Ancient lock she couldn't defeat with science, let herself into his quarters. The curtains were still closed, giving the room a weird, half daylight effect, even from under his covers.

He heard Sam hesitate, then she came over to the bed and touched his shoulder through the blankets. "Cam? Are you awake?"

He nodded, just enough for her to see the movement, not ready to see her yet.

"What's wrong?" she asked, voice gone high with worry. "Are you sick, shall I get Jennifer?"

He opened his mouth to tell her no, he wasn't sick, she didn't need to get anyone, but his breath caught in his throat, came out as a sob, and that was all it took for him to start crying, rolling over so he could sit up and let Sam pull him close, hear his own voice saying, "I want John, I want John," over and over until Sam hushed him into silence and all he could hear was own gasping breath.

Sam said, eventually, "What happened?" then, when she noticed that he was naked under the covers, "Cam, what happened?" more sharply, pushing him back a little to look at his face.

Cam ducked his head, not wanting to meet her eyes. He knew he looked a mess – felt it, eyes itchy from crying, skin tight, hair gone crazy. He wished she'd just leave him alone to burrow back under the covers and hide away, and the fear from that thought made him clutch at her arms, like she was clutching at his.

"Tell me what happened, Cam," she said again. She did that when she was worried, he remembered, used people's names more, like she was trying to hold them to her with it.

"It's not what you think," he said, even though it wasn't all that far away either, not really. "I did something stupid, that's all."

He shuddered, couldn't help it, and Sam pulled him close again. He went, gratefully. "That's not all," she said quietly, her voice close to his ear. "You haven't been okay for weeks now."

There was a long pause, like she was waiting for him to admit it, or deny it.

Sam sighed. "I think maybe – Dr Heightmeyer keeps trying to get us to see her. I think maybe you should go."

Cam thought maybe she should go, that it couldn't be normal to have adjusted to this as fast as she had, and that he was entitled to a little depression. Except he knew what a little depression felt like, and he knew what he'd felt like, partway through physio after his crash, when his improvement had plateaued and he'd felt like he'd never get better, like he couldn't even try. This was too close to that, and he could admit that it scared him

"I wish I could just go home," he said, instead of a real answer. Instead of what – who – he really wished for.

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Cam didn't know how Sam figured out more or less what had happened and with whom, but he was sure that she had, because Rob, instead of turning up again, friend or potentially something more, started keeping his distance from Cam. It meant that the other young marines, who'd always seemed to be mostly following his lead with Cam, started doing the same, and suddenly Cam was a lot more alone.

He barely had time to notice, let alone care, before Dr Beckett was killed, and everything changed.

Cam was sitting with Jennifer and some of the other medical staff, waiting for Beckett to finish his surgery so that they could get back into the infirmary. He'd opened up the OR already, let the disposal team in, and there was an air of relief hanging over them; one more random, terrible threat in Pegasus that they'd survived.

That was when the explosion hit, shaking the corridor they were sat in.

Cam was on his feet before he thought about it, moving towards the sound of the blast on instinct, when Jennifer caught his arm. "Don't," she said, her face pale, but her eyes determined. "Wait."

There was a long, long pause. Jennifer didn't take her hand off his arm, and after a little while, Cam moved, until they were holding hands. Beckett had been removing the tumor, ready to hand it off to the disposal team. Beckett had to be dead, and so did the person they'd sent to meet him.

Cam hoped like hell that it wasn't John, and felt guilty for thinking that instead of thinking about Beckett being blown up, trying to save someone's life.

Eventually, Jennifer lifted her free hand to her radio and said, "Go ahead," then, after a brief pause, "Okay. Thanks."

Her hand tightened in Cam's, and he squeezed back until she took it away.

Her face was still pale, and she looked like she was holding it together by a very thin thread. "The blast damaged part of the main corridor into the infirmary," she said. "We're to set up in an auxiliary lab two levels down until – until the marines have finished clearing up. It shouldn't be for more than a day or two."

"What about Dr Beckett?" one of the nurses asked. He sounded like he already knew the answer, just needed to hear it.

"Killed immediately," Jennifer said, her voice expressionless. "Let's get moving, we've still got patients to see."

Walking next to her, Cam asked softly, "Who else?"

He knew he'd given himself away when Jennifer reached for his hand again, squeezed it quickly. "A marine. I don't know his name."

"Thanks," Cam said, hoping his relief didn't sound too loud in his voice.

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He held out for twenty-four hours, through setting up their temporary infirmary, trough Jennifer falling apart suddenly and completely and weeping on his shoulder for half an hour in silence, through Teyla, still in a hospital bed, near silent with grief. And then he cracked, even though he knew that he shouldn't, and went looking for John.

Cam found him, first try, in his office, with his laptop open and a thickish file next to it, though he wasn't working, just staring at the opposite wall.

"Hey," Cam said quietly.

John didn't start, like Cam had half-expected, just turned, slowly, to look at him, expression unchanging and blank. "What do you need?" he asked, sounding like he looked, like the military commander of a city.

"I wanted to see how you're doing," Cam said, honest and awkward. He felt sixteen, like this, even though John was, for once, not looking at him like that was who he saw.

"I'm fine," John said, dismissive.

"I'm sorry," Cam said, which he probably should have said first. He'd hated doing this before; it was even worse now that he was sixteen and clumsy. "About Dr Beckett and your marine."

"Thank you," John said, still as dismissive. Cam wondered if it should have hurt, except that this was John, this was how John was when he lost someone, and Cam felt the city's sense of loss, even though he hadn't known any of the people who'd been killed very well.

He understood, he just didn't know how to get past it, when he would have before. He hovered, instead, while John didn't quite look at him, but didn't look away either.

Finally, John shifted, met Cam's eyes. "Thank you for checking on me," he said, offering up a small smile. "I'm... glad you did."

That hurt, but it was a familiar hurt, now, buried under the loss until it became dull. "I wanted to make sure you were okay," Cam said, even though he'd known that John wouldn't be. "In the explosion, I was worried it might have been you."

"No," John said, stating the obvious. He looked down, and when he met Cam's eyes again, there was regret cracking through the blankness. "I have to get this done, I'm sorry."

"Sure," Cam said, already halfway to leaving, and didn't add, as he would have, that John knew where to find him if he wanted to. He already knew that John wouldn't find him, even if he did want to.

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Cam didn't go to any of the funerals. The one for the marine, Sergeant Collins, was military only, and he didn't belong there. He didn't belong at Beckett's funeral either, held in the gate-room with much more pomp and circumstance than Atlantis funerals usually had, even in his limited experience.

He stayed in his quarters with Sam instead, and they ended up writing an email to Teal'c and Vala and Jackson, missing them, wanting to be sure they were okay.

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A week later, Jennifer found him down in biology, feeding carrots to the sort of rabbit thing that they had down there. She still looked tired – exhausted, actually – but there was a brightness about her that Cam hadn't seen since before the explosion.

"I've been looking everywhere for you," she said, the brightness in her voice as well. He couldn't work out what it was – happiness? Pride? Excitement? Something like that. "Come on, we need you and Dr Carter in the conference room."

"Why?" Cam asked, shutting the cage door and trying not to think about Earth, about all the crises that might have hit.

"I'll tell you when we get there," Jennifer said, actually grabbing his arm and pulling him a few steps, until she was apparently satisfied that he'd come on his own. "Hurry up."

When they got up to the conference room, Sam was already there, along with John, Weir, McKay and Zelenka, and Ronon and Teyla. Sam looked as mystified as Cam felt, but McKay looked about ready to vibrate out of his chair.

John, to Cam's extreme discomfit, looked something close to frightened.

Cam sat down next to Sam, close enough to touch, if they wanted to.

"I think everyone's here now," Weir said. She had her game face on, but there was definitely a smile in the corner of her eyes. Next to John, it worried Cam even more. "Rodney, Dr Keller, why don't you go ahead?"

McKay took a breath, but Jennifer was faster, spinning to face Cam and Sam, her eyes bright. "We found a way to reverse the change," she said, so fast that it took Cam a second to understand the words.

"We?" McKay asked.

"Yes, we," Zelenka said firmly. "This was a team effort, Rodney, even you must admit that. We could not have done this without Jennifer and – the medical staff."

McKay slumped slightly at Zelenka's pause, like he'd heard the name Zelenka had managed not to say.

"Forget who's responsible," Sam said, echoing Cam's thoughts. "You've really found a way to do this? To change us back?"

"Not a way," McKay corrected. "A device. It's been almost right under our noses this whole time, if only the Ancients had managed to leave us with some kind of logical searching tool for their database of everything they knew about everything –"

"Rodney," Teyla said, faintly rebuking.

McKay gave her a quick look, then picked up again. "We think they were experimenting with ways to reverse the effects of a wraith feeding – the device was actually designed to de-age a person on a cellular level. Given the time, it wasn't all that difficult to make it do the opposite. It's even programmable to do a set number of years and months. We could take you right back to the age you were when you were de-aged, or add in the six months since it happened, it's that precise."

"Experimenting?" Cam asked, before everyone could get swept up in the miracle of the science. From the corner of his eye, he saw John move slightly to look at him, and knew he'd asked the right question, that this was why John was frightened.

"It doesn't look like they ever managed to make it work on victims of the wraith," Jennifer said immediately. "The other effects on the body of being fed on were just too much for a simple de-aging to reverse, and their victims tended to... Um."

"Um, what?" Sam asked, sounding suddenly suspicious.

"Go into shock and die," Jennifer said quickly, like she was hoping they wouldn't notice the words. "But you have to remember that the wraith victims had already been through a massive shock to their entire bodies, it's no wonder that they couldn't take that as well."

"And we have done several very successful experiments with the lab mice," Zelenka added.

"Oh well, as long as the mice survived okay," Cam said, which made Ronon crack a smile, even if no-one else did.

"There's no reason to think that this won't be perfectly safe on two healthy, um, adults," McKay said defensively, and Cam wondered, suddenly, who'd convinced him to work on the device, who'd even found it. He wasn't quite ready to suspect John's direct hand, and it was possible, of course, that McKay had done it for Sam, but Cam suspected that he'd really done it for John. It made him feel a little better, some kind of proof that John's team really were looking out for him, even if John wasn't really letting them in very far.

"You don't have to make a decision right now," Weir said smoothly. "Either of you. We can provide you with all of the research team's notes on the device, and their testing procedures, and of course you're welcome to discuss it further with any of them. This isn't a limited time offer, you can take as long as you like to think about it, but we wanted to offer it to you as soon as we were sure it was safe to do so."

Despite her words, most of the people around the table were looking at Cam and Sam expectantly, like they were supposed to leap immediately at the chance to be the first human test subjects on a device that was millennia old and not actually designed to do what it was being made to do.

Cam could remember, mostly, a time when that was exactly what he would have done, and the memory of it was almost enough to make him say yes.

"We'd like some time to think about it," Sam said, before he could. "Rodney, can you email me your notes?"

"If you think you'll be able to make sense of them without my help," McKay said, already tapping at his tablet.

"As long as you're spelling in English and not Mckaysian this time, I think I'll manage," Sam said sweetly.

"I'll put my notes in as well," Jennifer offered.

"Great," Sam said. She stood up, so Cam followed her. "Thanks."

It didn't escape Cam's notice, as they left, that John hadn't said a word through the whole thing.

hr

"What do you think?" Sam asked. The two of them were huddled together over her laptop on her bed, Cam reading over her shoulder and Sam explaining the bits that were beyond his level of understanding.

Cam shrugged. He thought he understood most of what the notes had said, what the device would do and how, but he'd been relying on Sam for two years to tell him yes or no based on the science, and it was proving to be a hard habit to break.

"It should work," Sam said, scrolling through the last few lines again. "There's nothing in here to suggest that it won't."

"Except for them never having tested it on any humans who survived," Cam felt compelled to point out, even though he did more or less understand that they were different.

"Except for that," Sam agreed. "But there comes a point where everything has to be tested out in real conditions."

"Are you going to do it?" Cam asked.

Sam rubbed her finger over the touchpad of the laptop, watching the curser dance. "Yeah," she said, eventually. "I think – I still remember my old life, I want to have it back, before it's too late to get it back, even if they do reverse this. I think it's worth the risk."

Cam thought about SG1, about his parents and his brother and his cousins, who all thought he was probably dead. About his car, in storage at the SGC, and flying something other than the jumpers, about a job that he could leave at the end of the day, legally drinking beer, and basketball games on TV the day they aired, not weeks later.

About John, hurting, and all his memories of life with John, and said, "Me too."

hr

He didn't have to find John, could have gone to Weir with Sam, said yes and left it at that, trusting her to pass the message on. Except that felt too much like the first change, when Landry had broken the bad news without really knowing what he was doing, and Cam wanted to be the one to say it this time.

Wanted to see John's face, when he knew.

It was late, late enough for John not to be in his office. That was no guarantee that he wouldn't be out somewhere else in the city, but the only place Cam could have the conversation was John's quarters, so he went there, first time since he'd moved into Atlantis.

There was, he told himself, absolutely no reason to be acting like a nervous teenager picking up his date for the first time. No reason to assume that there would be anybody there except for John.

It still took him over a minute to work up the courage to sound the chime.

There was a longer pause than he'd expected before the door slid open, the lights in the room at half-strength. John, standing in the doorway, was wearing black pants and a gray t-shirt, squinting slightly in the harsh light of the corridor, obviously having been woken up.

"I'm sorry," Cam said, feeling himself flush, not sure if it was embarrassment or something else. "I didn't mean to wake you up."

"That's okay," John said, then added, clearly lying, "I wasn't really sleeping."

"Right," Cam said dryly, giving his pajamas a pointed look.

John smiled sheepishly. "Okay, I was really sleeping, but I wouldn't expect you to have known I would be."

John was not, generally, given to early nights, and Cam wondered, suddenly, if John had been sleeping at all over the past few days. If he'd know that McKay and Zelenka and Jennifer were close and had been worrying.

"I'm still sorry," he said. "I should go."

John rubbed his eyes, dragged his hand through his hair, and when he looked at Cam again, he seemed more alert. "No, it's okay. Come in."

Cam hesitated just inside the doorway, trying not to look at the thrown-back covers of John's bed, or to watch him pull a black sweatshirt over his pajamas. He felt awkward, still in his uniform and boots, like he might step on John's vulnerable bare feet, even from the other side of the room.

John, turning around, noticed, and waved awkwardly to the cream leather chairs by his window. "Do you want something to drink? Coffee, or..."

"I'm fine," Cam said, putting him out of his misery, and sitting down.

John dragged the bed clothes into some semblance of order, then made the gesture totally pointless by taking the other chair, twisting slightly to look at Cam. "You decided to go through with it then."

"Dr Weir told you?" Cam asked, oddly disappointed.

John shook his head, smiling slightly, though it didn't look very amused. "You wouldn't have come here otherwise." He hesitated, then added quietly, "I know you."

Cam looked down, wished he'd asked for a cup of tea after all, so that he'd have something to look at, something to do with his hands. "Do you think it's a bad idea?"

"I don't think I'm an impartial judge," John said, deflecting. "I want it to work too much."

Cam risked a quick glance up, and saw that John was looking as intently at his own hands as Cam was. "I trust Jennifer, and Zelenka," he said, then felt compelled by honesty to add, "And McKay."

"Me too," John said. "Mostly. I just don't want the one that goes wrong to be you."

"I don't want it to be me either," Cam said firmly. "Or Sam. But there's never going to be anyone I do want it to be."

"I know," John said, resigned.

"I miss you," Cam said into the silence that followed, not quite sure why he was saying it.

"Get used to it," John said, still resigned. "You'll see even less of me when you go back to Earth."

Cam hadn't actually thought about that part of going back to Earth. Being so near John and not being able to be what they had been was torture, even compared to how they'd been before, which hadn't been the most fun he'd ever had, but, as much as he loved the idea of being with John all the time, he knew he couldn't stay on Atlantis. The past six months had proved that there wasn't a place for him, and even older, back to what and who he should be, that wouldn't change.

"Can we..." he started, then stopped, afraid to ask. Afraid of what the answer might be. "Do you think we'll remember this, after the device changes us back?"

John gave a one shouldered shrug. "There's nothing to suggest that you won't."

"That's good," Cam said, even though he wasn't completely sure that it was. Having a six month gap in his memory would be pretty odd, but he suspected that they wouldn't be able to go back to being their old selves as easily as everyone was implying. With each other, at least, they'd gotten a lot closer, shared a lot that they hadn't before. The dynamic would be different too, after Sam had been the strong one, instead of both of them.

"Yeah," John said, then, before Cam could say anything else to keep the conversation from dying and him having to leave, "I want to – afterwards, I want to –"

He stopped again, but Cam had always been good at reading between John's lines. "I miss you so much," he said, letting all of his heartache show. "I want to go back to like we used to be, I want, I want..." Except he wasn't any better, right now, at saying things, not when what he wanted to say was I love you, please, don't end it.

"Oh God," John said, sounding broken and hurting, and he was close, suddenly, closer than he'd been since Cam was thirty-nine, and Cam closed the last of the distance without thinking about it, found John's mouth with his, John's hand closing over the back of his neck to hold him close.

Kissing John when he was sixteen felt different to kissing John when he was thirty-nine, but the way that John kissed was still exactly the same, like John was using the kiss to say what he didn't have the words for, and it was so, so easy to fall into it like he always had.

When John pulled away, it was so sudden that Cam nearly over-balanced. "I shouldn't be doing this," John said, though his hands, still on the bare skin of Cam's neck, his arm, said different. "You're sixteen."

"I'm not," Cam said, desperate and daring, kissing John again. "I'm not, not this time tomorrow, please, I miss you, I –"

"Don't," John said, then kissed Cam, like he was making sure. "Tell me tomorrow, when you're you again."

Cam shuddered, letting a tiny bit of his terror run through his body. "Can I stay here tonight?" he asked. "I'll sleep on the floor, I don't care."

John pulled him close, not quite a hug. "You don't have to sleep on the floor," he said, clear invitation that made every muscle in Cam's body go limp with relief. "Just don't roll over in the night, you'll fall out of bed."

It wasn't, in the end, a concern: they slept holding on to each other, like the change that was about to happen already had, and they could do that again without it meaning anything more than it did.

hr

Cam and Sam flipped a coin to see who would go first, and Cam won. It made John, who'd been closed off and worried when they woke up, go even quieter than he had been, and Sam offer best two out of three.

Cam shook his head. "Someone's got to go first. At least if it kills me, you might be able to fix it."

"It won't kill you," Jennifer said firmly. Some of her excitement from the day before was gone, like she'd just realized that their friendship would change, probably irrevocably, once Cam was changed back. He wanted to hug her, but it didn't seem right any more.

"We're ready," Zelenka said, at his elbow. The device, which looked a bit like the pictures Cam had seen of the device that had nearly ascended McKay, now had a glowing blue patch on the step. "Stand there, and we will do everything else. Probably there will be some pain."

"Now he tells me," Cam grumbled, but he stepped up with only a hint of trepidation.

The assembled small crowd stepped well back, obviously used to the mysterious workings of Ancient devices. Cam sought out John's eyes, waited for John to meet his, and offered up a smile. John's answering smile was still touched with worry, but that, weirdly, made Cam feel better. It was nice, knowing that John could worry about him again, with only the usual, grown-up issues to be concerned about.

"I'm ready," he said, and closed his eyes as the blue light washed over him, washing this version of him away.


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