blue flamingos

Thin Thread Left

Fandom: Stargate Atlantis/Stargate SG1

Category/Rated: Slash, NC-17

Year/Length: 2008/ ~3163 words

Pairing: John/Cam, Lorne/Ronon

Spoilers: general, minor spoilers for SGA season 4.

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

Warning: HARACTER DEATH (off-screen)

Summary: People talk about this as a victory, but to John it feels like defeat; the end of their first decade in the city

Author's Notes: For [info]14valentines Day 12: Economics and Work

Beta: by [info]domtheknight

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

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Everyone's in the gate room when the gate activates and Major Shah's voice announces that the last Wraith hive ship just exploded, sending the room into an eruption of whoops and cheers and hugs.

John, up on the balcony, leans back against the closed conference room door, his knees weak and his whole body shaky. He can't quite wrap his mind round the idea of the galaxy without the Wraith, that they've actually managed this impossible seeming thing.

"John! My God!" Carter flings her arms round him, but she's gone before he can return the embrace, everyone wanting to hug her. They all know to stay away from John, all except for a very small group of people.

"John." One of whom is right in front of him, and Cam doesn't look jubilant or exhilarated or any of the things everyone else looks. He looks like John feels, stunned and shocked. "Do I say congratulations?" he asks, and John pushes away from the door, letting the motion tip him forward and into Cam, and it's the first time he's initiated non-sexual contact in months.

Cam holds him there, steadying him, and John turns his head, pressing his face into Cam's neck. His hands have started to shake, and the breath he takes sounds damp. He knows what's coming and he's totally powerless to stop it. The only slight mercy is that lots of faces will be wet, and people will understand. They all know what he's lost.

"I'm sorry," Cam says, very soft, close to John's ear, and John's next breath isn't a breath at all, it's a sob, because it's taken them a decade to do this, so long that he's stopped counting the people they've lost, because he doesn't need Rodney's genius brain to keep count of the only ones who matter.

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They lost Teyla first. When Tagan was thirteen Atlantean months old, and the Athosians were still gone, she came to John one morning and announced that she was taking her son and going to find her people, and that she wouldn't return until she had.

They sent her off with a radio and an IDC and food, and made her promise to call if she needed them.

John touched his forehead to hers and thought, 'I'm never going to see you again.'

As it turns out, he was right.

Sometimes, back when he still went through the gate, they'd go to a world where Teyla had been. She got to be something of a legend, if it was possible to be a legend without being a couple of hundred years dead, particularly on worlds the Athosians had never traveled to, and John heard all sorts of stories about her and Tagan. He was never sure which of them were true – maybe all of them, maybe none of them – and it didn't seem to matter. At least they meant she was still out there, alive, somewhere.

Two years after she left, they stopped. No-one spoke of her, no planet was ever one she'd been to.

"Maybe she's found them," Rodney suggested. "Maybe they're on their way back."

Nhima, one of the few survivors of the hollowed-out moon world, who'd joined the team when John decided that he wanted someone to hold Teyla's spot, not to create a new spot, like they'd done after Ford, opened her mouth, then closed it again.

"Yeah, maybe," John said, not pointing out that there was no 'way' for them to make their way back along – they just had to dial Atlantis and step through the gate.

It took seven months for anyone – for Ronon – to say out loud what they were all thinking: that, whether she'd found the Athosians or not, Teyla wasn't coming home.

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Five months later, John, Rodney and Nhima came through the gate alone, grabbed a dozen Marines, and went right back.

They only needed one of them, in the end, and they didn't even really need him. It didn't take a corpsman's training to see that Ronon was gone too.

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Everyone on Atlantis has a signed statement on file; actually, they have three: one in John's office, one in Carter's, and one at the SGC. They cover all the eventualities that John and Elizabeth could think of, when they came back to Atlantis after the first Wraith siege, and a few more that they came up with over the years: death, presumed death, prolonged absence off-world, Wraith abduction, dematerialization in space, forced ascension, transformation and subsequent mercy killing, loss of Atlantis and on and on. They lay out, for every possibility, who to inform, what to say, what to do with the body, if there is one. Most of them include other stuff as well: John knows, for example, that ninety percent of the Marines want their stuff to be distributed amongst everyone else, mostly at John and/or Lorne's discretion; he knows that all the scientists have a disk of peer-reviewed articles ready for publication when declassification happens; he knows where Carter wants her personal possessions sent, and what three dozen different people would like on their headstones; he knows who wants to be buried on Earth, and who wants it to happen on New Atlantica's mainland; who wants to be given to the sea or have their ashes cast into space.

He knew that Ronon wanted his body to be taken to the Satedan settlement, and buried there, following Satedan traditions.

Sheppard or Lorne can decide what to do on Atlantis, if they're still around, was written at the bottom of the sheet. If not, whoever's in charge of the military. Something like you would for one of the Marines.

The public memorial was easy – John had done it so many times, he could have done it in his sleep, which was a good thing, since he wasn't sleeping at all, and could barely concentrate past the way every bone in his body ached, like when they'd lost Elizabeth, only a hundred times worse.

The Satedans sent a party to meet them at the gate and escort them back to the settlement. John recognized a couple of them, from previous visits or random encounters off-world, but they gravitated toward Lorne, to his surprise, and Sincha even hugged him.

When John and the rest of the pall-bearers were getting ready to leave, Lorne took him aside and said, "I'm staying."

John looked at him, trying to push past the fog of grief clouding his own head. Lorne didn't look much different from the way he always looked – a little tired, a little worn, but they all looked that way right then. The more John looked, though, the more he thought maybe he saw something else, carefully hidden in a way he'd lived before, and he nodded.

"The Satedans asked if we want to leave a representative of Atlantis for the mourning period," he said carefully, feeling out the lie. "McKay and I couldn't be away from the city for that long, but you and Ronon were friends, you offered to stay."

"Thank you," Lorne said with a nod, the words soaked through with relief.

"I'll see you in five days," John told him; the Satedans spent five days in a kind of remembrance – longer than most other Pegasus cultures, though not that long compared to a lot of the more highly-developed planets – and then held the burial, which a number of Atlantis personnel, including John and what was left of his team, were coming back for.

"Yes, sir," Lorne said firmly, and John remembered, suddenly, Ronon sitting down at their table in the mess, maybe six months after he'd started seeing Keller, and saying, "Jennifer and I broke up," looking at something over John's shoulder and not sounding that upset. John couldn't remember if he'd asked why, or what Ronon's answer had been.

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After the burial – it was too different from Earth for him to call it a funeral, nothing but a silent, still ring of people as they lowered the coffin – he found Lorne sitting round the back of one of the single floor houses the Satedans had built.

"Thought I'd find you here," he said, sitting next to Lorne and leaning back. "This is Ronon's house," he added, not quite asking a question.

"Yeah," Lorne said, and hesitated. "There's not much here, but he wanted a place –" He stopped, and John filled in some of the blanks: a place with his people, even though he'd gone with the Athosians when the Ancients had taken the city back; a place that Lorne knew, where they'd come together, even though John could only remember them taking leave together once or twice.

He wondered if he'd find anything of Lorne's in there.

"I'm sorry," he offered finally, wanting to say more, but the truth was, some things were too ingrained to break, even for this. He put his hand on Lorne's arm, where it was resting on his drawn up knee, and squeezed, and left his hand there; after a while, Lorne sighed, and tipped his head so he was just barely leaning on John's shoulder, and said, "Me too."

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Things were different when they got back to Atlantis: Lorne seemed to struggle more than he had right after it happened, for one, losing some of his usual cool competence and wry humor, and replacing them with shadowed eyes, a thin but constant thread of loss in his voice and a renewed tendency towards sleep-walking. John, for his part, spent a lot of time wanting to demand answers to a whole lot of questions he knew he couldn't ask, like, what were you doing? and, when did it start? and, whose idea was it to lie to me?

And, did you talk him into keeping it secret from me? Which was the one question that really mattered, and the one question that had no good answer, because someone hadn't trusted him, and he really didn't want to know which of them it had been.

None of which helped curb his urge to shake Lorne and order him to answer, which he couldn't do, not when Lorne was so obviously grieving, and didn't seem to have anyone to help him. John ended up fielding all the questions from the Marines that Lorne would normally have dealt with, which was weirdly sweet, in an odd-ball, Marine, kind of way, but also left him torn between wanting to point out that he'd lost someone too, where was their compassion for him, and wanting to reassure them that he knew Lorne was indispensable, so could they lay off trying to prove it so John wouldn't get him sent back to Earth, or whatever they thought he was cooking up.

Somewhere in amongst all that, John and Rodney agreed to retired their team from the field – neither of them could face trying to find another new team member, or two, when Nhima decided that she needed to go back to her people, owed them her part in rebuilding their population and their society. John ended up spending more time in the labs after that, annoying Rodney and avoiding the Marines, and trying to get his head round this new reality.

It would have gone on indefinitely, John was pretty sure, except that four months after they lost Ronon, Cameron Mitchell walked through the gate, along with a squad of 302 pilots.

John had known this was coming, had actually been actively preparing for it, so, even in their low level chaos, it wasn't a hugely disruptive change. SG-1 had been disbanded not long after John's team, once the Ori had been defeated – Teal'c back to the Jaffa, to take on a more senior position in their council, Vala absconding during a mission, according to the reports, though John was betting there was more to it than that, Jackson on some kind of extended study trip to the Furlings, whom SG-1 had finally found a while back, and Mitchell reassigned to Atlantis to head up the city's finally acquired 302 wing.

Despite being a smoothly integrated addition, it was just enough to shake things up so they resettled into something more workable, everyone distracted from their own problems by the new personnel, John and Lorne included. Which was nice – John was man enough to admit, at least in his own head, that it was nice to have their easy, partners-in-crime working relationship back again.

The idea was that John would stay in command of the military, with Lorne as his second, and Mitchell, like John, reporting to Sam, but only being in command of the 302 pilots. In practice, since Mitchell was senior in terms of years in grade, and both his pilots and John's Marines were cross-training on the different ships, the chain of command got blurred fairly quickly. Lantean Marines, though, were nothing if not flexible when it came to their Air Force COs, and while John wouldn't have liked to try and put the arrangement into any kind of chart, it seemed to work.

John remembers those few months as being pretty good: he and Mitchell got friendly, the gate teams had a series of fruitful missions, including two that netted them ZPMs, everyone was as happy and relaxed as they ever got in Pegasus, and they even had the beginnings of a plan to take out the Wraith for once and for all.

It was good.

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He remembers, later, feeling the explosion through the floor of the gate room balcony, while leaning on the railing to talk to a team on their way out. He remembers shouting, "McKay! Rodney!" into his earpiece and getting no reply. He remembers racing through Atlantis, accompanied by a bunch of Marines, someone shouting for updates in his ear, and then he remembers waking up in the infirmary.

He never remembers the three days in between. Not one second. Not even in a dream.

Lorne and Mitchell filled in bits for him, but they didn't really need to. The fact that it was the two of them sitting by his bed and not Rodney told him everything he needed to know.

For all that he'd talked about sending his body, or his ashes, into space, Rodney's will actually requested that they send his body back to Earth. John went through the gate with Colonel Carter, Radek, Miko, Lorne and Katie, who'd married an archaeologist two years after breaking it off with Rodney, and found it easier to be his friend after that. Jeannie invited them all to the service, but in the end, John was the only one who went, trying to explain their uncle's death to Madison, who was old enough to understand, swinging between refusing to be near John and hugging him at random, and to Bradley and Robbie, who, at seven and four, only really grasped that Uncle Mer was gone.

Robbie insisted on being picked up during the funeral, and held through the graveside service, and John still doesn't know if Jeannie had him take Robbie for his own sake or hers. It didn't really matter – at least he could look down at Rodney's nephew and not have to see all the people looking at him in his dress uniform.

He got back to Atlantis late – Earth's day and their night only synced up some times, and this wasn't one of those times – to find Mitchell loitering by the gate, offering to walk him to his quarters. John was pretty sure he wanted to be left alone, and equally sure that it wasn't such a good idea, so he shrugged and let Mitchell follow him: to his door, then into his room, then into his bed.

Mitchell didn't try to kiss him, or offer to fuck him, or even suggest he might want to talk, just lay next to John in the dark, rubbing his thumb over John's wrist, again and again and again.

'I'm the only one left now,' John thought, and wished he could beam it into Mitchell's head so he wouldn't have to say it out loud. 'I'm the only one left.'

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Mitchell was still there in the morning, and five days later, they had sex in John's bed, while John tried not to remember that five days was the Satedan mourning period, before the burial.

Life kept going: he slept with Mitchell some more, and eventually graduated to calling him Cam; Lorne found out and teased him; Carter found out and teased Cam; their plan to take the fight to the Wraith actually started showing results, and Cam's 302 flight learned how not to get shot down in space; the Genii made another of their once-every-two-years runs on the city and were stopped before they got through the gate; missions happened, and went wrong, and rescues happened, and sometimes also went wrong; people arrived and left and stuck around, and John yelled at scientists and sometimes Marines, and New Atlantica kept on turning.

Until, without him really being able to put his finger on how, they've been in Pegasus for a decade, and the last of the Wraith ships is exploding.

"I never really expected we'd actually do it," Lorne says that evening. He's been nursing the same coffee mug of off-world-traded whiskey all night, sitting with John and Cam at the top of the gate room steps, watching the party going on below. It hasn't escaped John's notice that none of the people down there are long-term expedition members, or that none of them have lost anyone they were close to. By those standards, Cam should be down there, dancing with Carter; John's sure it says something that he's sitting with John instead, but he's too tired to figure out what that is.

"I did," he says, pulling his mind back to the conversation. It's true; even when it seemed impossible and he had no idea how they'd do it, he always knew, in the back of his mind, that they would defeat the Wraith. A lot of days, he thought that was what he'd been put in Atlantis to do.

"So what next?" Cam asks, leaning into John. They're still waiting for Don't Ask, Don't Tell to be abolished, but no-one in the city cares. "Replicators are gone, Wraith are gone, Genii aren't a serious threat..."

John thinks about Teyla, who might be out there somewhere; Elizabeth, who sacrificed herself for all of them, and Carson, who didn't mean to sacrifice himself but did; Ford, who he'll never stop regretting, and Ronon, who couldn't leave until the Wraith were all dead; and Rodney, who started the chain of events that led to this moment. John's always expected to die on Atlantis, that the city was the only place he belonged, but now he thinks he's given it enough, that it doesn't feel like his city now, but a graveyard, haunted by ghosts he'll never forget, here or anywhere else.

"Let's go home," he says.


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